According to the recent statistics of the Ministry of Culture, there are about 120 public libraries distributed throughout the Lebanese territories, but with the economic situation that we have been witnessing for three years, many of them have been affected and some may have been closed due to the difficulty of continuing, as they are run by almost incapacitated municipalities with the collapse of the currency.
A tour of the libraries
Away from the digital books and the electronic atmosphere that failed to take over the paper world and the headquarters of the libraries that we have become accustomed to since childhood, and with the aim of learning more about the movement of pioneers and touching the reality outside Beirut, there was a tour of “Nidaa Al-Watan” to a number of public libraries to form the “National Library” in Baakleen is our first stop.
The town is home to the largest library in Lebanon, in the Chouf district, containing more than 200,000 books and 300,000 publications. It dates back to the Ottoman era, when it was a palace built during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1897, then it was transformed over the years into a court, then a municipal center and a prison, before To be restored and converted into a library at the request of the town’s residents.
The director of the library, Ghazi Saab, confirmed that it is witnessing an unprecedented increase since 2021 in the intensity of visits, especially from the youth group, which currently constitutes 65 percent of its patrons. He said, “We witnessed the borrowing of 26,000 books in 2021 and 22,000 in 2022, and the numbers this year are on the rise.”
He pointed out that the library adopts an external lending system that allows anyone from all over Lebanon to borrow a book free of charge for a period of 15 days, subject to renewal, explaining that “the National Library finally has a theater that allows it to receive activities, the proceeds of which go towards building maintenance, books, securing its needs, and lighting it. And here it perseveres.” Despite the current crisis, she has to move forward with her message, as the number of her activities this year exceeded 245, including signatures, books, workshops, etc. Also, her agenda is full of countless events and activities that will continue until the end of next August.
The second note was in the “Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah Public Library” in Haret Hreik, which was inaugurated by the “Islamic Cultural Center” of the “Al-Mabarat Charitable Association” in 2004. It is rich in various scientific sources and references and contains more than 120 thousand titles in the three languages Arabic and English. And French, in various fields of knowledge and science.
The library consists of two floors distributed over an area of approximately 1,500 square meters. Its books have been classified and arranged on the shelves according to topics and according to the global “Dewey Decimal” system, which is adopted globally in all public libraries, which facilitates the process of lending and retrieving books.
The librarian, Hanan Raslan, confirmed that the attendance continues to rise at a high rate, from all age groups, especially students, from Beirut and all of Lebanon in search of sources of information and borrowing interesting and useful books. She said, “The library finally concluded the week of reading with success, and now continues to organize story readings, children’s puppet theatre, and weekly workshops.”
As for the suffering in the task of continuing, Raslan says, “The salaries of the employees are paid by the “Al-Mabarat Charitable Association”, but there are still many difficulties for the library to deal with and face, starting with maintenance, through electricity and daily expenses,” noting that “the library management has reduced working hours due to The crisis imposed a semi-annual fee of 500,000 Lebanese pounds on subscribers (down from 50,000 previously), through which a person can borrow two books for a period of two weeks.
She pointed out that the maintenance work and expenses are financed from renting the halls of the library and from paper photocopying in them.
As for the Clac Reading and Cultural Activation Center in Barja, which opened last year, Amis Clac founder Zainab Hamieh assured us that it is witnessing a large and intense movement, especially among children and students. The center includes novels in different languages and various books between politics, history, psychology and others.
She said, “Here, books are lent for free, at the rate of 3 books for a period of 3 weeks. But the center is struggling and suffering with the absence of salaries for the employees, who are now working as volunteers.”
In the city of Tripoli, the tour concluded, in an ancient building dating back more than 100 years, and a library that opened more than 50 years ago.