Okay before I start, I know some of you Millennials and Zoomers are going to be all like “Libraries? Aren’t those really old buildings where they used to keep books and ancient texts and stuff on papyrus or paper or something? My grandmother used to work in one, like a long time ago before the internet”. You’d be somewhat correct if you thought that.

So, we may not rely on brick-and-mortar libraries so much anymore. But, even in the digital era, it’s refreshing to know that you can still find them in the Arabic speaking countries. You can spend a day catching up on your reading or relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. With that in mind, these are some of them you find in the Middle East. So, shhhh, please be quiet while some of us read on.

1) The Library Of Alexandria / Alexandria, Egypt

This was once the world’s largest and most comprehensive library in the ancient world. The library of Alexandria not only housed books, but it was also a place where you could hold meetings, walk through lovely gardens, or maybe even learn something in its mighty lecture halls. It made the list of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, the place burned down around the turn of the 1st century AD.

The idea of reviving the ancient Library of Alexandria in the modern era was first proposed in 1974. The library was finally rebuilt 2002 at a cost of $220 million USD (E£ 3.6 billion). The Library of Alexandria, today the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, currently contains more than 500,000 books, though it has space for over eight million. Like the Library of Alexandria of 2000 years ago, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is also not only a library, but also a cultural center, planetarium, manuscript restoration lab, art gallery and exhibition space, museum, and conference center.

2) National Library Of Kuwait / Kuwait City, Kuwait

The efforts of several Kuwaiti writers made this library happen in 1923. The National Library of Kuwait is also Kuwait’s official legal deposit and copyright library. It received most of its collection of over 5 million volumes from the library of the Kuwaiti Charitable Society. By that, it became the largest library in the Middle East.

Currently located on Arabian Gulf Street, the recently completed building is something to see. There are conference rooms and auditoriums. Also, its location near downtown makes it a short walk to all the nearby trendy shops and restaurants.

3) National Library Of Jordan / Amman, Jordan

Amman’s main public library, and the government’s center for processing its documents for archival purposes, is the Department of the National Library. It began in 1977 as the Directorate of Libraries and National Documents. In 1990 it was replaced by two new entities: the Department of the National Library and the Documentation Center. These two merged together in 1994 under the Ministry of Culture known as the Department of the National Library.

The library houses a huge collection of Arabic works, and does an excellent job in containing the latest Arabic-language publication. However, there are also several books available in other languages too. You’ll find lots of choices on a variety of subjects, some more surprising than others. Also of interest is the Department’s sizable and well-preserved collection of periodicals spanning the greater Arab Middle East for the latter half of the 20th century.

The place isn’t crowded at all and you can usually get in a couple of hours of quiet reading. It’s definitely worth a visit.

4) Al-Qarawiyyin Library / Fez, Morocco

Imagine going to the library to do a little light reading from a 9th-century Quran or a 10th-century account of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. These and over 4,000 other rare books are the oldest ones in the world.

Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya founded the library in 1359 AD. The Al-Qarawiyyin library in Fez, Morocco has been restored to its former glory. The precious documents that were once under lock and key are now available to the public.

Interestingly, about the same time, algebra was just making its way into Europe. So, it makes sense that the library contains not only a treasure trove of priceless religious texts, but also numerous mathematical and scientific works as well.

Fast forward to today, Al-Qarawiyyin Library’s beautiful fountains and gorgeous white-columned passageways are now open to the public. As you enter the library and browse through several centuries of works by renowned scholars, you’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the most ambitious and brilliant Arab minds in history.

5) The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture / Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

From the oldest library to perhaps the newest, The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture is more than a library. It also contains a wide variety of cultural facilities along with the library like an auditorium, cinema, exhibition hall, museum and archive.

The auditorium seats 930 visitors and provides for a wide range of events. These range from symphony concerts and operas to symposiums and lectures. Together with the smaller cinema, it is an unrivaled venue for the performing arts in the Kingdom. The library has become a center of learning containing some 200,000 books on open access. The great exhibition hall accommodates large scale traveling exhibitions and provides the setting for social events, banquets and conferences. The museum and archive facilities connect the vibrant cultural life of the center to the past and to the very roots of the society from which this center is conceived.

The center is part of the Saudi Aramco Oil Company to promote cultural development within the Kingdom. The foundation stone for the center was laid by King Abdullah on May 20, 2008 and completed in 2018.

If you’re in the area, visit one of these libraries. For those learning Arabic, libraries can be a good place for you to find books resources to help you learn and practice the language.

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