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The Return of Books & Libraries

I came across a picture of a mobile library in Libya in the sixties the other day and immediately this picture stirred within me a mixture of emotions. The first groups of emotions were of pride in Libya’s heritage and the wish to pursue reading even though Libyans were very poor then. The picture was tangible proof that the Libyan people were always avid keen readers and not the rugged low life terrorist stereotypes that Gaddafi wanted the world to see us as.

Mobile library in libya - 1958
Mobile library in libya – 1958

The second wave of emotions that swept over me however was of despair and helplessness. I was saddened that this great nation, which was on the right tracks fifty years ago, could have been so derailed now. Libyans had more learning tools at their disposal when they were threadbare poor than now when in theory they have millions of dollars of daily exports to the world.

I remember when books in the eighties and the early parts of the nineties you would walk into a bookstore with money in your pockets with every intention of purchasing a book but the bookstores had semi-empty shelves, which held only dusty copies of Gaddafi’s green book or his laughable attempts at literature. It was very sad really, because I can remember how young people would read badly translated Agatha Christie crime novels and any books they can lay their hands on with such enthusiasm and the books would be handed from one reader to another as a great favor securing many promises that the book would be looked after and returned upon completion.

The shortage of books was a Gaddafi policy in a plan to methodically make Libyans ignorant of the world around them and narrow minded. Sadly and as much as I hate to admit it, he had succeeded to a certain extent but there is light at the end of the tunnel because though the damage is extensive it’s not irreparable and the chaotic Gaddafi culture that has invaded Libyan minds and their way of life can be erased, expunged and replaced by normalcy and the return of book access to life in Libya is the first step on that road.

Gaddafi restricted access to books even for subjects which had nothing to do with politics and were it not for two miracle inventions which are  the Satellite dish technology which gave Libyans access to world media and of course the Internet. Libyans would be completely isolated from the world and only hear and see Gaddafi myths on his TV channels which Libyans called the Ganfoud which means the hedgehog because of an artless logo of a green book emitting a semicircle of rays like a sun.

I use to amuse myself by imagining how Gaddafi would sit in a dark corner and kick himself for allowing Satellite dishes and the Internet to enter Libya, they were a genie which he must have regretted letting out of the bottle and at the end they certainly contributed to his downfall.

Going back to books, though books are more easily accessible in Libya now they are still very expensive and not affordable for the average Libyan citizen, so this brings us to Libraries. Outside of teaching institutions or a handful of research centers, the Libyan people do not have the luxury of reading a free book by borrowing it and the absence of Libraries is denying many the opportunities to read for entertainment or knowledge.

Recently a group of young Libyan activists had a genius idea of adopting buses and making them a travelling library so that passengers can make use of the books during their journey. These kinds of initiatives are exactly what we need to make books accessible to Libyans again.

I use to amuse myself by imagining how Gaddafi would sit in a dark corner and kick himself for allowing Satellite dishes and the Internet to enter Libya, they were a genie which he must have regretted letting out of the bottle and at the end they certainly contributed to his downfall.

Many will have the argument that books are out of fashion now that the Internet is available. To that argument I say yes the Internet is a valuable tool for learning and amusement but I think the Internet does not lessen the importance or the popularity of books, they are not rivals each has its own league they will always coexist.

I think a good idea is for Libraries to be built as a building adjoined to a mosque because all streets or neighborhoods have mosques and it won’t be difficult to install a library and let’s not forget that the first word that prophet Mohammed received from God was the command READ. So it makes sense for mosques to be guardians of local libraries.

What do you think?

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