Bill Gates surprises Dubai family with book donations for Little Free Library

The billionaire philanthropist donates his holiday reading list to 100 libraries around the world

Kelly Harvarde's husband Alex Jeffries and daughter Aya next to their Little Free Library outside their Dubai home. Photo: Kelly Harvarde
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A family in Dubai has expressed joy at being one of 100 Little Free Libraries in the world to receive a donation of books from Bill Gates.

The billionaire philanthropist recently sent copies of five of his all-time favourite books, part of his holiday reading list, to selected Little Free Libraries around the world.

"There are few things I love more than discovering a new book to read. And in communities around the world, one of the best ways to find a new book is through a Little Free Library," he said on his website.

"As part of the release of my new holiday books reading list, I arranged for copies of the books I’m recommending to be placed in more than 100 Little Free Libraries all around the world."

Kelly Harvarde, who, along with husband Alex Jeffries and young daughter Aya, started their Little Free Library outside their Dubai home in 2020, said they were "absolutely thrilled" to be selected for the donation.

"It was truly wonderful to be included in Bill’s campaign. The books he selected were really interesting and to connect with other libraries and readers around the world as we received the books has been so heartwarming," Harvarde tells The National.

Kelly Harvarde and daughter Aya stock their library with free books. Photo: Kelly Harvarde

A global phenomenon, there are more than 150,000 Little Free Libraries around the world, typically found in front of people's homes, in their front gardens or in community spaces. The concept is simple: Anyone can take or leave a book at any time, creating a new book exchange that everyone can participate in.

Little Free Libraries have popped up in more than 85 countries globally, with about 75,000 libraries sharing books for free. Each year, nearly 10 million books are shared around the world.

Harvarde's Little Free Library is one of two in the UAE to be selected for Gates's book donation, the second one in Abu Dhabi. They are among five registered Little Free Libraries in the emirates.

"It was a complete surprise when the books arrived. I discovered them in the library at the weekend when we were re-stocking and organising," says Harvarde. "Our library is very busy at the weekend. We were, of course, thrilled to find them.

Harvarde says she and her family wanted to join the Little Free Library movement to share books and "bring people together and create communities of readers".

"We worked with a Satwa carpenter on a custom-built design and we decorated it as a family. We have signs explaining the concept in Arabic, Malayalam, Hindi and Urdu," she says.

"Our Little Free Library doesn’t just belong to us, it belongs to the whole community. We wanted to bring a little more joy, a little more connection and a whole lot more books to our community."

There are five registered Little Free Libraries in the UAE, including two in Dubai. Photo: Kelly Harvarde

The library in Jumeirah now has daily visitors perusing titles, which cover every genre from fiction and cooking to languages and history. There’s also a special selection for children.

"It’s magical seeing people pass by and enjoy the library, we’ve met so many lovely people. Some are neighbours from Jumeirah, some are passing by on their way to or from work in their cars. We have families who come on bikes or as part of their evening walk. Lots of regulars who I keep books for because I know their favourite genres and authors," she says.

"There are heartwarming stories of people we’ve met, like Tarek, a delivery driver who wants to start his own business. He asked for books on self-improvement, so I regularly save books I think he might like. He recently left with Sheikh Mohammed’s autobiography and was absolutely delighted."

Harvarde's family have, on occasion, installed an extension to their little library to home all the books donated.

"We once had a huge amount of sheet music donated, which I wasn’t sure would be popular. The very next day, a gentleman came who was looking for sheet music for his daughter who was learning to play the piano. We were all delighted to connect him with such a gift," she says.

Harvarde, who works as a PR director in Dubai, also organises a Ramadan Fridge free food delivery event every year during the holy month. She also hosts a podcast called Good Intentions,which focuses on social impact, psychology, mindfulness, personal growth and health.

She says she would like to encourage more people to set up their own Little Free Libraries.

"It’s truly one of the most wonderful and rewarding things we’ve ever done," she says. "It does involve a certain amount of work, getting donations, sorting through the books, daily re-stocking and cleaning. But nothing makes my heart sing more than seeing people happily finding a book that they love, or connecting someone to a good book that I know they will enjoy.

"Connecting with our local community and learning more about the people who share this great city with us has been truly a gift."

More information on Little Free Library is available at littlefreelibrary.org

Bill Gates's all-time favourite books

The Microsoft co-founder is also a voracious reader and picks an annual reading list. This year, he said he was doing something a little different, picking titles regardless of when he finished them. It's not an extensive list of his all-time favourites, he says, but books that he's recommended to family and friends over the years.

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

"This book is still one of my favourite sci-fi novels of all time," Gates writes on his website. "I think the best science fiction pushes your thinking about what’s possible in the future, and Heinlein managed to predict the rise of hippie culture years before it emerged."

Surrender, by Bono

Bono and Gates are known friends, but a lot of the stories the U2 frontman tells in Surrender were new to Gates too.

"If you’re a U2 fan, there is a good chance you already plan to check it out. Even if you’re not, it’s a super fun read about how a boy from the suburbs of Dublin grew up to become a world-famous rock star and philanthropist," Gates says.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and released this biographical portrait of the US president in 2005. Gates calls it "one of the best books on the subject".

"It feels especially relevant now when our country is once again facing violent insurrection, difficult questions about race, and deep ideological divides," he writes.

The Inner Game of Tennis, by Robert Gallwey

Released in 1974, the book is a must-read for anyone who plays tennis, Gates recommends.

"Gallwey argues that your state of mind is just as important — if not more important — than your physical fitness. He gives excellent advice about how to move on constructively from mistakes, which I’ve tried to follow both on and off the court over the years."

Mendeleyev’s Dream, by Paul Strathern

Dimitri Mendeleyev was a Russian scientist who first proposed the periodic table after it allegedly came to him in a dream. Strathern’s book traces that history all the way back to its origins in ancient Greece.

"It’s a fascinating look at how science develops and how human curiosity has evolved over the millennia," Gates writes.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 7:12 AM