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A glimpse into the National Library of Kuwait

kuwait-libraryFor centuries, libraries have served as bastions of human civilization, preserving the written words of generations long gone for the benefit of those yet to come. In Kuwait too, libraries play the vital role of preserving the country’s literary and cultural accomplishments. And it is in the heart of Kuwait City, between the National Assembly and Seif Palace, that Kuwait’s largest public library sits housed in a massive modern yet elegant building The National Library of Kuwait is by no means the first or only public library in the country. The first library was established in 1923 under the patronage of the late Amir Sheikh Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Today there are 27 public libraries scattered across the country. Yet most of these remain largely abandoned, attracting few visitors. The National Library hopes to rekindle public interest in literature in general and in Kuwait’s literary heritage in particular

A collection in Arabic and English As of now, the three-storey structure is home to nearly 160,000 books, of which 30,000 are in English. When completed, the library’s collection is expected to include about 300,000 books, periodicals, magazines, dissertations and government publications in Arabic and English.

The ground floor contains sections devoted to children’s books, philosophy and Braille. There is also a 275-seater auditorium where the National Council of Culture, Arts and Letters often holds educational seminars and lectures that are open to the public. History, geography and the social sciences claim the library’s first floor, while literature occupies the second. A music library is also being furnished

The Kuwaitana Hall But it is the Kuwaitana Hall that is the highlight of the library. Occupying sections of both the first and second floors with a magnificent view of the sea, this section is dedicated to everything related to Kuwait. From old documents and maps to the most recent fiction by Kuwaiti authors, this section has notable works in both English and Arabic.

The collection includes The Encyclopedia of Kuwaiti Languages (Arabic) by Khaled Al-Rusheid and the Arab of the Desert by H R P Dickson, among others. “The Kuwaitana section is a favorite section of many of the employees and visitors as its window views of historical Kuwait are only eclipsed by the interesting and rare resources found there,” said Abdulrahim, a member of the library’s PR staff. Rare books are to be shelved on the upper floor of the Kuwaitana Hall. And while access to this section will require special permission, several glass cases on each floor display a few of the rare and fragile books for visitors to see. Each section also contains a number of old books, some published in the 1940s.

Delayed opening Construction began in 2005 and was completed four years later. HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah officially opened the library in 2011 as part of celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s independence. Even so, while researchers and students do visit the library for academic purposes and field trips, it is not yet open to the general public. The staff was unable to provide Kuwait Times with a tentative opening date. Abdulrahim explained that “the transitioning of all the books from the old reference system to the Dewey decimal system and all the logistics involved in the task” could be possible reasons for the delay.

Kuwait itself Despite this, he is certain that “the library - once open - will generate greater public interest in reading and literature among the population because of the availability of such interesting public resources, and because it can foster a more appreciative environment within the country towards literature and reading.” To Dana Omar, who works at the Kuwaitana Hall, “The NLK is not only a normal library, it’s the source of Kuwait... or I can say it is Kuwait itself. It’s one of the places that tourists should add to their list of cultural trips when they visit Kuwait.”

By Batul K Sadliwala

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This article was published on 11/09/2014