By TBY | UAE | Jun 17, 2015
The National Library of Abu Dhabi is a gem of knowledge, culture, and history, facilitating the dissemination of literature to and from the Arab world and symbolizing the importance of education in Emirati society.
As the UAE celebrated it 43rd anniversary in 2014, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority’s (TCA) National Library project celebrated its 33rd year since being established in 1981. It officially began serving the public three years later in 1984, and has seen significant expansion and development since then, dotting neighborhoods across the Emirate with more and more physical library branches while also enhancing its local and worldwide reach into the online world of digital publishing, mobile libraries, and various other e-services. A token of Abu Dhabi’s growing reputation as a cultural and intellectual capital in the Middle East, The National Library is tasked with the important job of compiling and safeguarding all national literary information, from books to periodicals, to historical documents and electronic materials, such as e-books and audio books. It is also associated with several region-leading initiatives that promote the exchange of literature and knowledge to and from the Arab-speaking world, valuing the importance and power reading can have on igniting economic development and traversing cultural boundaries.
Not only does the National Library offer easy access to information through its resources and archives, but it also provides significant support to spur the creation of local, Emirati intellectual content, be it short stories and novels, poetry, scientific research, or children’s literature. These subjects are gaining greater exposure in the region and worldwide through several programs, one in particular being the well known and ever-growing event, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF). The ADIBF, a TCA project associated with the National Library, attracted 15% more visitors YoY in 2014, including many of the world’s leading publishers and booksellers. The event offers access to professionals in the book industry, such as publishers, distributors, and other literary industry players from the MENA region and abroad, giving the opportunity for them to convene and coordinate deals with local writers, bringing Emirati writing to wider audiences through subsidized translation offers facilitated at the event. Today, Arabic writing is being translated into English, Urdu, Italian, French, and many others languages from around the world through initiatives such as these, increasingly making Abu Dhabi a prolific destination in the world of publishing.
While more Arabic and Emirati content is being translated and distributed outside of the UAE, more content is coming in as well. A key goal of the National Library is to support the translation of literature from other languages into Arabic. It’s affiliate project, the Kalima initiative, along with the Abu Dhabi Translation Conference, work to translate various literature into Arabic, further encouraging reading and the exchange of ideas and culture to Arabic speaking societies, of which there are roughly over 200 million in the world. Each year, Kalima selects 100 classic and contemporary titles to be translated into Arabic.
According to SCAD, back in 1971 when the UAE was first founded, the illiteracy rate in the Emirate was 75.12% of the population over 10 years of age. The most recent data from SCAD indicates Abu Dhabi today may have one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the entire Gulf region, with 6% illiteracy recorded in 2011. It is shopping that is most often referred to as one of the most popular national pastimes and means of entertainment in the UAE, but reading may have the potential to be a close second as the National Library seeks to enhance literacy rates even further through its various translation initiatives, increase in physical branches, and extension of its archives to a wider audience online.