In search of a good book to read? Culture enthusiast and blogger Nadine Chemali browses the shelves of libraries in Beirut that are open to the public.
Lebanese National Library
This national treasure was first established in 1921 by Lebanese historian and bibliophile Philippe De Tarazi, who donated around 200,000 documents to the library. Efforts were abandoned to grow the collection when the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975. Many documents were destroyed during this period, but others were preserved as they were stored at Beirut Port.
A new site for the library was planned in Sanayeh; and with the help of the EU, restoration works began in 2014. The space was reopened in December 2018.
The library consists of a reading hall, conference rooms and events venues to host cultural activities, including talks, lectures, exhibitions and poetry readings. It is said that the current collection includes 300,000 items: books and newspapers, drawings, maps and 70 oil paintings.
Assabil Public Libraries
Assabil, Friends of Public Libraries Association, is an NGO that was established in 1997 to manage Beirut’s public libraries.
There are currently three within Beirut: Bachoura, the first and largest; Geitawi, located in Jesuites Public Garden; and Monot, the most recent addition. There are plans to open a further nine branches over the coming years.
The three libraries offer cozy reading areas and contain large collections of 45,000 books, magazines and DVDs. You can check their online catalog (library.assabil.org). Storytelling sessions for children, book clubs, gatherings with authors and cultural activities are also organized at the libraries.
In 2006, Assabil created the first mobile library, Kotobus, providing students from public schools and underprivileged children in Beirut access to books.
Geitawi: Jesuit Garden, Rmeil, 01 560728. Open Tue – Fri: 9 am – 6 pm; Sat: 9 am – 3 pm.
Monot: Saint Joseph University St., 01 203026. Open Tue – Fri: 9 am – 6 pm; Sat: 9 am – 1 pm.
Located in Sin El Fil, CLAC (Centre de Culture et d’Animation Culturelle) was established in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and the international agency of the Francophonie. More than 20,000 documents in Arabic, French, Spanish and other languages covering topics such as history, social sciences, languages, literature, religion, law, health, cooking and art can be found there.
The space is divided into two libraries: one for children and another for adults. Many cultural events are scheduled throughout the year, including storytelling for kids, school visits and book signings.
During the warmer months the library moves outdoors, allowing visitors to read books and enjoy the fresh air. This has been incredibly popular with schoolchildren.
Dekwaneh Public Library
Founded in 2017 by the Municipality of Dekwaneh, the library contains around 22,000 documents. More than half of these are in English; the remainder are in French and Arabic.
In addition to fiction and non-fiction novels, visitors can find material on a large variety of subjects, including art, psychology, philosophy, history, literature, medicine, science, law and technology.
The library provides an area for children, where the books are categorized by age and topic. There is also a small conference room for presentations and meetings.
General Wazen St., Dekwaneh, 03 788419. Open weekdays: 9 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 7pm; Sat: 9 am – 1 pm.