Make libraries part of our culture
By: SAAD DOSARI
I have a confession to make; I have not been to a public library since my graduation from the university and that was around 10 years ago. For someone who loves books and reading, I find that embarrassing if not shocking.
However, in my defense, and on behalf of all book lovers in the Kingdom, it is not in our hands. The sad truth is that public libraries are not part of our infrastructure or should I dare say they are not part of our culture!
If science and literature have homes, then it is these libraries. Between those walls embracing thousands of books, neatly arranged on shelves, wonder is born; the love to discover, to create, to travel between pages, to sit quietly and open your minds and souls to new knowledge, is developed.
In the libraries, talents are sharpened, ideas shaped, experiments designed and a pact for loving knowledge is forged.
“It isn’t just a library,” Isaac Asimov, the distinguished American writer once said, “It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.”
The relationship between a Saudi and a library is, let’s put it this way, anemic. Back to the school days, the school library is a luxury not all schools can afford. If you were not a student in a private school, or a public school with a moderate library, most probably you have not been to a library till you became a university student. And even if your school hosted a library, I bet the relationship between you and the school library is surrounded by a lot of fear and bureaucratic prominence. I remember been a couple of times only to the library in my public intermediate school, and every time I’ve been there with my fellow students, it was like visiting a nuclear plant; do not touch anything, stay away from this and that. Schools keep those libraries for prestige rather than for educational purposes. They know that if anything happened to those libraries, they will never get the required budget to maintain them or uplift them.
The story in the university differs only a little. Nothing in there is attracting you to go and to stay. Few students only discover that a library is a good place to study because of the quiet atmosphere, and that’s it. But as a place to read, to research, it was not that favorite a destination. The stock of the library was old in general, and as a student of engineering, most of the materials were outdated compared to what I should have been studying.
Once I graduated, my relationship with public libraries has been lost. To read anything I have only two options, either to buy it (if I could find it), or to borrow it from a friend. Even the public library that we were dreaming to have here in Jeddah took around 18 years to open its doors and till this moment, I have not had the chance to visit it.
In a nutshell, Saudis and libraries are not best friends.
Compared to so many nations, we score badly when it comes to libraries. In the United States, for example, Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Library Survey shows that 77 percent of Americans aged 16 and above recall a family member using a public library while growing up. 84 percent of the same sample visited a library in person, 53 percent of them did that visit in the last 12 months with 8 percent on a weekly basis, 25 percent do it at least once per month. 46 percent of those who participated in the study considered libraries as very important to themselves and their families, and 63 percent of them considered a library vital for the community as a whole. Such a study conducted in the Kingdom would be shocking, I guess.
Along with our ongoing debates and discussions about education in the country, let’s bring the concept of libraries back into our daily lives, maybe the next generation would thank us for that. “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better,” said Sidney Sheldon, the American writer.