Citizens, expats demand more public libraries in country

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The King Abdullah Library in Riyadh is among only 83 public libraries in the Kingdom.

The King Abdullah Library in Riyadh is among only 83 public libraries in the Kingdom.

Residents in the Kingdom have urged the government to build more public libraries to inculcate habit of reading and learning in various disciplines among the youth, teenagers and professionals.

“There are only about 83 public libraries all over the Kingdom,” said a Shoura member and former professor at the King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.

If there are more libraries, he said, they will encourage habit of reading among the general public because there will be outlets for the youth and professionals to avail themselves of good reading materials.

Educators believe the number of libraries in the Kingdom is disproportionate to the population which now touches 29,195,895.

An Internet blogger, Jvalanciunas said, “Hopefully, there will be more public libraries in the Kingdom to enable the culture of reading.”

Ahsia Yousaf, a schoolteacher, said the Saudi government should act to engender interest in reading among children, adding that most children spend their free time surfing the web or playing games.

“Many people think that reading takes more time than getting a quick synopsis off the web,” the Dammam-based schoolteacher said.

Yousaf added that there’s an urgent need to cultivate reading among children so that they can pass it down the generations.

Jeanette Arenque, a teacher in Riyadh who received her education degree from the Philippine Normal University (PNU) in Manila, added that reading also exerts an invisible and formative influence on one’s character.

She said that she and her husband are trying to wean their two children off computer games and encourage them to read books.

A Saudi woman blogger said, “If only young Saudi women knew the astronomical change reading would make in how they view the world.”

“It is unfortunate that Saudi young women limit themselves to Arabic women magazines,” she said.

She blamed the schools for not encouraging children to appreciate books.

“The majority of schools do not even have a library. The poor quality of Arabic literature for children also plays a role. The books lack creativity and the quality of publishing is very poor. To top it all, it is difficult to access books with book stores being few and far between,” she concluded.

Julia Simpson-Urrutia, in her blog entitled “Book Publishing Around the World” said, “As a writer who lived for almost two decades in Saudi Arabia, I can say that most people who read ‘new’ books are college- educated and can read and write in more than one language.”

One very important reason for the youth being hooked on the Internet is that most of the prescribed literature in universities is now available in PDF format or on CDs.
“Students don’t take notes anymore because lectures are now available online,” said a Jeddah-based computer programmer, Muhammad Amir.

Hadiya Sheikh, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, said: “I used to read novels but now find screen adaptations more interesting.”

Muhammad Ibrar, a Riyadh-based Pakistani, begged to differ: “Traditional books in print form remain the most reliable source of information among students.”
However, supermarket stores selling newspapers and magazines have reported that their sales have spiraled downward.

According to a report, an average Arab child reads only six minutes a year in comparison to Western children, who average around 12,000 minutes a year.

An adult in the Arab world reads on average a quarter of a page a year compared to an American adult, who reads around 11 books, or a British adult who reads about seven.

Farooq Hassan, a business development director in the Central province, said: “People strongly believe they can learn from the Internet, yet the information found in books is more profound.”

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