(CNN) – Dubai is known worldwide as a glittering, glorious center of capitalist excess: Its ever-growing array of wonders includes skyscrapers, luxury hotels and glittering shopping malls.
But one of its most exciting new attractions — the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library, which opened in June — is a wonderful oasis of quiet contemplation, where visitors can curl up with a good book, plug in a laptop for personal study or work, or simply admire. rare manuscripts and first edition books displayed in the exhibition space on the seventh floor. Entry is free for all, locals and tourists alike, and tickets only need to be reserved in advance.
Joining a large group of world-class book treasures including London’s British library and Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the new library still carries a Dubai price tag, reportedly costing one billion dirhams, around $272 million. of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who announced the construction of the new library in 2016. And with more than 1.1 million print and digital books housed in an area of 54,000 square meters, it is expected to attract crowds who favoring culture over consumption.
Located in Dubai City in Al Jaddaf, just next to the shipyards where artisans have been building traditional barges by hand for decades, the impressive building looks like an open book, but it is actually inspired by the rest of the book. rehl used to hold the Holy Quran. . The center has nine different libraries, devoted to everything from media and art to trade titles, international periodicals, maps and atlases, children’s and young adults’ books, and a collection of treasured archives.
The collection of works is still being built, but it already boasts some impressive numbers. In addition to its multilingual print and digital books, visitors can access more than six million theses, 73,000 musical scores, 75,000 videos, 35,000 international print and digital journals, and more than 5,000 historical journals spanning 325 years.
And when you need a break from all that training, there’s a cafe too.
Books, not hitting
Avid readers can happily spend hours browsing the bookshelves and flipping through magazines. But, compared to the city’s array of high-end attractions, can the rest of Dubai be convincing? Jamal Al Shehhi, an Emirati writer, publisher and member of the new library board, certainly thinks so.
“A lot of people like supermarkets, but a lot of people like books, too,” he says. “Dubai is known as a center for trade, commerce and tourism, but now this cultural building is sending the message that cultural history is in Dubai, and there is nothing better than books to convey that message.”
During the Thursday morning visit, the library is not completely full, but it is not empty either. Selfies are taken against the large — and photogenic — walls of books in the light-filled lobby. People wander through the space, many making a beeline for a specific spot. Staff are hosting events later in the day, one of many that are open to the public to give those who may not be regular library goers a reason to explore the facility. And although it is not a place to write for book readers alone, there are also those who are sitting comfortably in the big armchairs, very impressed with the names that they have grabbed.
There are iPads, but most kids seem more interested in physical books.
Mohammed bin Rashid Library
On the ground floor, the Children’s Library, designed for children aged 5 to 11, is already a hit. When I visit, a group of laughing boys are sitting in front of Pepper, a humanoid storytelling robot, who tells them “We’re officially friends!” before asking “How big is Corona?”
Pepper’s eye-catching eyes and cheery voice make the robot an amazing storyteller, and these are just some of the many features here — including slides, climbing nets and tents — aimed at proving to kids that reading isn’t boring.
But it is physical books that have other children in thrall. About 17,000 titles currently fill the shelves in this library alone. From the little girl curled up in a reading circle with a book in her hands to the boy sitting with his mother, using his finger to spell out the words on pages made of real paper, it’s an inspiring scene. And it’s even more so when you see that the shelf of iPads, set up for those for whom a paper book is a step too far, is still completely untouched.
Roller coaster for books
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library also combines culture and technology. In addition to the collection of printed books there is a database of thousands of digital titles that can be downloaded from machines in each of the nine libraries. There are braille books for visually impaired readers, and a quiet space with a reading pod for visitors with special needs.
But where the technology really gets exciting is in the Automated Bookstore, an underground storehouse of 400,000 titles unseen on library shelves.
Members can request a book through the library’s app (visitors can use the service at information counters), which are then delivered to the store, where a team of five fast, red-box-like robots search, sort and release the crates. for a human operator.
A light illuminates the requested title in a crate, then it is taken out, scanned and sent on what looks like a roller coaster, moving on rails from basement to basement with a waiting reader.
A unique collection of literary treasures
The seventh floor is where the library’s rarities collection is displayed.
Mohammed bin Rashid Library
The library’s collection of books is unique, to say the least. If you want to learn about the architecture of the Yorkshire West Riding, how to fold origami in the shape of Star Wars characters, or “35 Years of Glory of Dubai Islamic Bank,” you are in luck. And there is a whole library created for the United Arab Emirates, with the first edition of the first novel of the Emirati author, Rashid Al Naimi, as well as everything that has ever been published and published in the country.
But it is in the Treasures section of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library, on the seventh floor, that the rarities reside. Al Shehhi describes it as “like Dubai” in a way that embraces different cultures. More a museum than a library, the collection includes rare manuscripts, calligraphy tools and first editions of major literary works, some of which date back to the 13th century. In the comic section is a map of the Arabian Peninsula from 1662 by the cartographer of Holland Joan. Blaeu, one of the first to show geographical features such as mountains, oases, trees and pearl banks.
Unexpected items pop up in the collection, too. The fascinating details of Giovanni Battista Belzoni’s paintings of Egyptian antiquity are only surpassed by the fascinating details of his career path, which took him from being a member of a religious order to a circus hero and later an archaeologist.
There is a first edition of “The Importance of Loyalty” by Oscar Wilde and an example of “The Little Red Book” by Chairman Mao. But perhaps the most important thing in our present times is Edward Jenner’s “Investigation into the Causes and Effects of Vaccinae of Variolae” (cowpox), a study of the work that introduced the concept of vaccination, the book’s title being the origin of the word we use today.
As the library’s collection grows, there will be more interesting topics to browse, and with 200 annual events and exhibitions planned, the center aims to become a community in its own right. Perhaps it will be enough to convince visitors to Dubai to turn over a new leaf and leave the shops for an hour or two in favor of literary excitement.