Saudi Arabia and the Joy of Reading

library_of_congress_reading

I remember when we first arrived in Saudi and were staying with some family members.  I developed a routine of reading stories to the young children.  Even though not all of them understood English they enjoyed my stories.  I had a few books which contained many pictures and I would create entertaining stories around the pictures.  This also served as a means for me to expand what was then my limited Arabic as the children were always happy to inform me the appropriate Arabic word for any picture.  I slowly learned that my reading to these children was the first time they had ever been read to where someone would sit on the floor with them with the book up in the air, them snuggled around and we’d read.  They loved it.  One of the older children who was around eight years old asked if reading was normal in America.  I told the little girl that many children would get a bedtime story from either their mom or their dad each night.  I also told her about the American libraries which not only had so many books from which to choose but would have storytime hour and other special programs for the children.

Saudi Arabia does have libraries but they are rather limited.  The national library is the King Fahad National Library and the public library is the King Abdulaziz Public library.  The web site for the King Fahad National Library is in Arabic only.  However the King Abdulaziz Public library web site is in both English and Arabic.

Interestingly the King Abdulaziz Public library does offer a children’s reading club.  However unlike similar programs in the United States which are free of charge, one must pay fees in order for their child to participate.  The minimal fee is 300 SAR which is just under $100 which may be a little steep for some Saudi families.  On the other hand, the library has a ‘Kids Library’ section which sounds very nice according to the information on the web site in that it offers a selection of books, monthly and seasonal activities as well as theater corner, audiovisual and computer corner and artistic activities.

Like most other establishments in Saudi Arabia, the Public library is segregated with separate men and women’s sections.  Specifically, the library strives to disseminate knowledge and culture in Saudi society, concentrating on the Arabic and Islamic heritage and the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its founder King Abdulaziz.  It seeks to offer a high level of excellence in service in order to meet the expectations of its patrons, answer their needs and earn their satisfaction.

Goals of the Library

King Abdulaziz Public Library aims to achieve the following goals:

  1. Make available and organize all the different receptacles of information, such as books, journals, audiovisual materials and manuscripts in the various branches of knowledge.
  2. Concern for the collection and documentation of all forms of Arab as well as foreign intellectual output, including journals and research concerned with the history of King Abdulaziz and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in general.
  3. Dissemination of knowledge, culture and information, especially Arabic and Islamic, and attention to Arab and Islamic culture, as well as participation in its revival and renewal.
  4. Provide library services, translation and academic publishing in the area of the Arab and Islamic sciences in order to realize the development of academic research in the Kingdom.
  5. Support of the movement of writing, translation and academic publishing in the Arab and Islamic sciences, in order to develop academic publishing in the Kingdom.
  6. Participation in community service through organization of cultural and academic lectures and conferences, in addition to exhibitions and festivals, and participation in such events.
  7. Construction and documentation of Arab and foreign intellectual production in the area of horses and equestrian matters, in order to support specialized research and studies in this area.

The mission and goals of the library are worthy.  I cannot say how many Saudis actually spend much time at the library though on a regular basis.  In my own observations, many Saudis do not have the same interest in reading for the pure joy of reading.  I say many thinking of the whole country yet also knowing some Saudis who are avid readers.  I do believe however there should be more emphasis placed on reading and the joys of a good book.  Many children I have observed are much more interested in their gameboy, playing on the computer, watching tv or other activities rather than settling down with a good book.

On the other hand, many major institutions which employ expatriate workers and Western compounds will have their own private libraries.  The majority of books in these libraries will be in the English language and most of the books are used, having been donated.  If one wishes to find a current selection of English language books, rather than attempting to find them at a library, one would likely go instead to Jarir or Obeiken bookstores which are located throughout the Kingdom.

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