One thing you need to know about the brand-new Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is to not call it a, well, library.
There is so much more knowledge to soak in at the centre, board director Jamal Al Shehhi insists.
“We are talking about a space that is a cultural centre, a world of imagination where you can make your own discoveries,” he tells The National during a visit to the stunning venue, which is located on the banks of the Dubai Creek in Al Jaddaf.
This is not a sales pitch but the real deal.
The Dh1 billion venue, which took six years to build and will open to the public on Thursday, is a cultural hub of its own and joins Sharjah’s House of Wisdom in paving the way for libraries of the future.
Officially inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai on Monday, the bookstand-shaped centre spans seven floors and features nine thematic libraries.
It also boasts an indoor and outdoor amphitheatre, a literary museum, a conference centre, a two-storey cafe and a gift shop.
And, that’s only the opening phase.
On the horizon are electronic gaming lounges, a monthly programme of author events and a ferry service from Dubai Festival City to the venue for select sessions of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
This is in addition to the library continuing to build its own impressive catalogue, which includes, according to Al Shehhi, more than one million physical and digital titles spanning 30 languages.
The sheer scale of the new destination will require multiple visits to truly appreciate the scope and ambition involved.
My “express tour,” for instance, spanned nearly three hours as I walked 3.7 kilometres in 5,142 steps.
Although my visit only scratched the surface, I left with the belief that Mohammed bin Rashid Library joins the select group of venues that will stand the test of time.
How does it work?
In many ways the library operates conventionally with no entry fee required. However, a paid membership scheme is in place allowing UAE residents to borrow books for varying lengths of time. Further information on prices will be available online soon.
The library will be open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 9pm and is closed on Sundays. However, it is recommended to download the library app and reserve your time slots online.
There is free car parking, including dedicated spots for electric vehicles. A shaded walking path is also being built to allow direct access to the library from the Al Jaddaf metro station.
From the current to the classics
For a library of its size — it spans more than 54,000 square metres — it does a superb job of looking as grand as it does welcoming.
The lobby is airy and spacious, and boasts plenty of wood on the floors and walls.
The first thing you’ll notice are sky-high bookshelves flanking the entry, brimming with thousands of Arabic books on poetry, fiction and history.
Library content becomes increasingly specialised as you go up the seven levels, while the ground floor is home to three libraries filled with the most accessible content.
The general library boasts more than 100,000 titles and is the place to seek popular novels and non-fiction titles.
With all the books organised numerically, rather than alphabetically and in genre, it is recommended to search online for the availability of your preferred book in order to know exactly where to find it.
“We operate by name of the titles as opposed to language,” Al Shehhi says. “When we acquire books, we not only get multiple copies but also in as many languages as we can.”
The nearby children’s library, with 17,000 titles, is bursting with colour and comes with various toys and even an indoor slide.
A generously sized section is also dedicated to blind children with books published in braille. A sensory pod is also available to accommodate those with autism.
The first floor is home to two libraries, one focusing on maps and atlases, while the other centres on media and the arts.
The latter is home to expansive collections of Arabic newspapers and magazines spanning the mid-20th century.
The emirates library, located on the sixth floor contains more than 37,000 books written about the UAE in many languages and genres.
See literary treasures spanning hundreds of years
Despite the futuristic state-of-the-art equipment delivering books to various points around the library via monorail, history permeates the Mohammed bin Rashid Library.
This is dazzlingly captured in The Treasures of The Library section on the seventh floor.
It is a museum with hundreds of encased works; the collection has rare books, manuscripts and documents dating back to the 13th century. These include old copies of the Quran and a first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’s 17th century epic novel Don Quixote.
Also on hand is a first edition of Description de L’Egypte, a series of publications, appearing first in 1809, cataloguing various aspects of ancient and modern Egypt, written by scholars and academics who accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte on his expedition to the country in the 1798.
“Collecting these works took two years,” Al Shehhi says. “We had teams going around the world searching for them and even acquiring them at charity auctions. We were determined to get the best titles that we can find.”
Dubai as a cultural hub
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, has inaugurated a bookstand-shaped library that cost Dh1 billion to build. Photo: HHShkMohd via Twitter
With so much historical and inspirational material on hand, it is only right for the library to have dozens of couches, reading desks and workstations.
For those who need a little more peace and quiet, the second floor has plenty of spacious study rooms.
These are free of charge to those who book online.
Al Shehhi says the Mohammed bin Rashid Library is not only the latest jewel in Al Jaddaf Cultural Village, but aims to redefine the way people see Dubai and the greater UAE.
“A lot of the time people view Dubai as a great place for business and tourism — which it is and that’s great — but there is more to the emirate than that,” he says.
Beginning next month, Library Talks is a series of monthly events featuring bestselling authors from the region and beyond discussing their works.
And, with cultural conferences at the amphitheatre also planned, the Mohammed bin Rashid Library will be at the forefront of the UAE’s dynamic cultural sector for a long time to come.
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