Women can browse books ranging from education to literature, but the library will also attract professional researchers and educators with its vast collection and Sierra electronic management system. Delores Johnson / The National
Women can browse books ranging from education to literature, but the library will also attract professional researchers and educators with its vast collection and Sierra electronic management system. Show more

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Library provides a world of knowledge for women



Her vision is to have a public library in every institution.
The Mother of the Nation has long understood the importance of public libraries for individuals and communities. Another part of that vision was fulfilled last week with the opening of a women's library in her name.
The Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Library, affiliated with the General Women's Union (GWU), of which Sheikha Fatima is chairwoman, seeks to be a goldmine of specialist resources for women, children and UAE community issues.
It also aims to attract avid readers, researchers, and seeks to be recognised as a destination for professionals.
Located in Abu Dhabi on the intersection of Al Karama and Shakhbut bin Sultan Street the literary haven is now home to 10,000 books related to women and children, as well as audio and e-books.
A clever blend of classical and modern, theclear white interior makes a comfortable environment in which to sit and relax, with elegant sofas for reading and easy access to the volumes. The aim of the library is help to build a community by bringing people together, as well as encouraging reading.
The place might not be big in size, but has enough space to accommodate information on UAE women and children.
The exquisite design of the library is a reminder that, even in this increasingly digital world, libraries can be inviting public spaces.
Ahlam Al Lamki, head of research and development, says the Mother of the Nation understood the importance of libraries in aiding literacy.
"In 1975, Sheikha Fatima ordered that there should be a library in every association dedicated to women and children," she says.
"This is to encourage reading among women and children, and to improve the literacy rate."
Although, as The National reported in January, there are 14 libraries due to open in Abu Dhabi and the Western Region in which some users complain there is lack of private ladies' areas.
The Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Library is a response to their calls, giving women a sense of privacy and freedom to immerse themselves in reading, studying and research.
Another important role of the library is to collect and document statistics from other authorities, in order to help research on women and family issues.
"There is a shortage of statistics on women and children," says Ms Al Lamki. "We try to preserve all dates and references from all over the world on the subject and make it accessible for everyone."
These include figures on theEmirati female literacy rate, the number of working women in the public and private sector, and local female cancer rates.
As well as writing books, members of the GWU have voiced their concern to the Federal National Council for an extension of maternity leave and shorter working hours.
"All we do here is find ways to better women's lives," says Ms Al Lamki.
The library is first in the Middle East to use Sierra, the latest electronic library management system. Sierra speeds up the work of librarians by giving them access to a wide range of databases, including tracking down hard-to-find books.
As essential as the libraries are the librarians. With a beaming smile, Ameera Al Kurbi greets her patrons cheerfully. Not everything can be found on the internet, she says, so her role as a librarian is still important.
After fixing her headscarf, she explains the uniqueness of the Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Library. Pointing to a rack, she explains, "books on this shelf are published by General Women's Union".
The mother of three says the Sierra system will "serve as a platform facilitating daily transactions, and will help users find books easily".
"Hopefully by 2015, we plan to make a link between prominent libraries in the world, to ensure all women and children-related books, documents or journals are capable of being reached," she says.
The library also encourages master's and PhD graduates who have written theses on women or children, to share their documents to help serve future students, says Mrs Al Kurbi.
Also on her agenda for future activities at the library is a book club, to create a dynamic community in which women can discuss their love of literature.
"In many countries, they celebrate and embrace International Book Day," she says. "Unfortunately, we are yet to reach that enthusiasm level."
While the library's opening is still not widely known, Mrs Al Kurbi is optimistic that soon she will meet new faces, although she has concerns that the opening hours of 7.30am to 3pm might not fit everyone's schedule.
Plans to amend the opening hours are already being considered.
Among the collection are hundreds of books published by the GWU.
Each year the GWU team collaborate on publishing new volumes, on subjects like Sheikha Fatima herself, UAE medicine, tribal histories and local dialect.
One of the best-selling GWU books is Our Local Dialect by Aisha Al Rumaithi. The book documents words and expressions in daily use, as well as those from the past. One chapter talks about teknonyms – the practice of naming people after their children – and nicknames in the Arab world.
Sitting relaxed on a white chair, Muna Al Shaikh discusses with the importance of nicknames – kuniya in Arabic – in the UAE, with one of her colleagues.
"Too often you hear people calling their friends by their kuniya or teknonym," says Ms Al Shaikh, who works as a researcher.
A person named Saif, for instance, might be addressed as "Abu Hinad" by his friends indicating closeness and fondness, she explains.
"The book tells you that such expressions are used out of respect and to elevate status in the Arab world."
As soon as Sameera Al Hosani read about the new library in her newspaper, she said she was excited to visit. As a librarian working for the Ministry of Justice, she has always been fond of books and reading.
On her first visit, she was overwhelmed by the library's beauty and ambience. The books also did not disappoint, offering a wide range of genres, from education to literature.
As the mother of a boy, she is thrilled with the idea of a women's library, but says she is saddened by a shortage of children's libraries in the capital.
"My sister is also a librarian in Sharjah," says Ms Al Hosani. "She tells me about the numerous children's libraries scattered around.
"I have also noticed how much Sharjah cares about raising awareness about reading, and equipping children with the best facilities."
Ms Al Hosani says that, in an age where children are becoming increasingly attached to their gadgets, she fears reading is becoming devalued.
"Children are the future, and the country needs to create more children's libraries," she says.
aalhameli@thenational.ae

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