A Free Library for Every Family (in Sharjah)

In Guest Contributors by Chip Rossetti

By Chip Rossetti


SHARJAH, UAE: While many countries would like to encourage a “culture of reading” in their citizens, perhaps no government has taken a more direct role in promoting reading than the United Arab Emirate of Sharjah, through its official initiative known as “Knowledge Without Borders.”

Conceived under the auspices of the ruler of Sharjah, H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, the Knowledge Without Borders program has the ambitious goal of providing 42,000 Sharjah families with individual libraries of fifty books, including a display case to contain them.

According to Mr. Rashid Al Kous, the Emirate’s Director of Cultural Programs, the program conducts a survey of each family to determine ages and genders within each household, and then selects a suitable mix of titles: “We pick a variety of literary works, for all members of the family—for the father, mother, and children, depending on their ages.”  The titles may include a selection of Arabic novels, books on family health and nutrition, cookbooks, science and technology, as well as the Qur’an and other religious books.

Launched at last year’s annual Sharjah International Book Fair, the program is still in its initial phases: to date, only 145 families have received their individualized libraries.  UNESCO has praised the program for its encouragement of a culture of reading, particularly in the Arab world, where book reading remains low, even in countries with high literacy rates.  The initiative is in keeping with Sharjah’s self-image as the “cultural capital” of the Emirates, a position encouraged (financially and personally) by Sheikh Al Qassimi, and reflected in Sharjah’s recent selection as the Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014.

At this year’s Fair, held earlier this month, “The governing committee for Knowledge Without Borders met with 45 Arabic publishing houses that were in attendance,” says Al Kous, “to discuss purchasing books for distribution and future cooperation.”  In all, 65,000 books were purchased at this year’s fair—a substantial number, but a drop in the bucket for the over 2 million titles the program eventually hopes to distribute gratis to Sharjah citizens in the next few years.”

LEARN: More about the Knowledge Without Borders project.

VISIT: The Web site of the Sharjah World Book Fair

BONUS: Knowledge Without Borders’ Top Ten Reasons to Read

About the Author

Chip Rossetti

Chip Rossetti is the managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature translation series at NYU Press. He is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.