In five years, Abu Dhabi has gone from having no public libraries in the emirate to being the regional leader in promoting reading habits.
Since 2012, a partnership between Abu Dhabi Municipality, National Library, Tourism and Culture Authority and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development led to the establishment of three libraries at public beaches and parks.
Plans for four new libraries are afoot and these, as well as the three beach and park libraries, are in addition to the four traditional library branches that have opened since 2010, when a survey of about 6,500 residents found there was "a great demand” for such amenities.
"All the survey results showed a need for public libraries,” said Emad Abu Eid, head of Abu Dhabi Municipality's public libraries unit. "This inspired us to develop a masterplan for public libraries all over Abu Dhabi city.”
The short and productive history of the emirate's public library system is being given by Zayed University researchers this month to delegates at the annual IFLA World Library and Information Congress.
Mr Eid, who with researchers co-authored the report Innovative Public Libraries in United Arab Emirates: Taking Library Services in Public Spaces, said: "We provide those libraries by taking them into public spaces, such as the beaches, parks and malls, to make the service available to all community members.”
Following the success of Al Bahia Park Library in 2012, in which an unused building at the park was converted, the government began looking into other public spaces with library potential. In 2013, a second park library was opened at Khalifa Park.
Two more park libraries – one in Al Wathba and another in Al Khatim – are planned, while the Al Wathba branch may open in December.
"Our plan is to add a library a year,” said Mr Eid.
The city is also working on designs for building a second beach library along the Corniche early next year. The Abu Dhabi Corniche Electronic Library, a small library that opened last year on the family beach, is not accessible to bachelors because of its restricted location.
A third library tentatively scheduled to open late next year is planned for Al Bateen Beach.
"It's kind of, you can say, it's an Abu Dhabi model,” Mr Eid said of the beach libraries.
"It's unique in the region to provide public libraries or library services in public spaces such as public parks and beaches.
"Usually anyone in their leisure time either go to malls, beaches or public parks, so they can easily access the public libraries there.
"Our aim is to meet the needs of the community. The leadership and the Government they give support to public libraries because they know the importance of libraries and of providing information to the community because this will enhance the education, the cultural issues and the social aspect.”
Storyteller Dalal Al Ameri recently had a group of about 30 children spellbound as she read a book about recycling as part of Al Bahia Park Library's summer programme. She said these events helped raise awareness among the public about libraries.
"The people, they are not familiar with using the library, not yet, but people are starting to have the knowledge and things are changing,” said Ms Al Ameri, who manages the children's section at Al Bahia.
Mother Amna Al Ameri said the activities offered at the park libraries have helped get her children excited about reading books.
"Every time we come, they have new things to do, like good tasks,” said Mrs Al Ameri, whose children especially like the storytelling events held throughout the summer at Al Bahia and Khalifa Park libraries.
"Since they introduced these activities, they get enthusiastic about visiting the library.”
Source: The National