Sharjah: Sharjah has recently been designated the World Book Capital for 2019 by Unesco, the UN’s cultural body.
The crown comes less than two decades after a previous Unesco designation. In 1998, Sharjah was named the Cultural Capital of the Arab World by the UN body.
This new title comes after 40 years of work from Sharjah authorities to turn the city into a hub for culture and books.
The story begins when the late Shaikh Mohammad Bin Saqr Al Qasimi dedicated a gold dagger to his 12-year-old son, Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, the present Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
The young Shaikh Sultan later mortgaged the dagger to buy books.
Several decades later, in 1982, the emirate saw the first Sharjah International Book Fair.
At that time, the fair was held in a simple tent where a few Arab publishers and readers gathered.
Today, the fair has turned into a literary festival that annually attracts more than two million visitors and more than 1,500 publishing houses.
Apart from its book fair, the emirate organises Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF). This year’s festival saw more than 300,00 visitors who attended 1,403 events.
The emirate is also home to seven public libraries which are home to around 600,000 books in Arabic, English and several other languages.
Sharjah is also home to Knowledge Without Borders (KwB), an initiative that aims to spread the love of reading in the emirate and wider UAE.
The concept of KwB revolves around placing a library of 50 books in each Emirati household.
A total of 42,000 Emirati families have benefited from the initiative, which saw a total of 2,118,300 books given to households.
Another KwB initiative is the mobile library, which has been designed to ensure that various community segments have access to books. The mobile library travels to homes, schools, universities, waiting rooms at government departments and public parks.
This year, the emirate set up Sharjah Publishing City (SPC), an exclusive free zone for publishing, the first of its kind in the world.
The city aims to open doors for printing and distribution companies, as well as editorial and proofreading services, translation, and design.
The publishing city hopes to tap into a growing Arab book market that imports books and materials worth Dh3.67 billion every year.
The Middle East’s fast-growing book industry targets nearly 950 million people in the region.
Sharjah is also home to several educational and academic institutions and universities as well as dozens of government projects and cultural initiatives that buy large quantities of books. These books are distributed to citizens, schools, universities and institutions, offering opportunities for publishing investors.