Since 1969, the Old Library has been managed by volunteers, with an elected management committee overseeing the operation. Image Credit: Rabab Khan/Gulf News

Dubai: Twenty six thousand books, currently on shelves, will soon be moved into boxes ready to be transported to their new home. The oldest English language Library in Dubai is closing down its current location, preparing for relocation.

The Old Library, established in 1969, is housed at the Dubai Community Theatre and Art Center (DUCTAC) complex in the Mall of the Emirates. However, the entire space has been earmarked for further development. So, not just the library, but Ductac as a whole will soon be bidding farewell to its current home.

Wajeeha Faiz, chairperson of The Old Library, told Gulf News: “We’re looking for a new space right now, considering our options and figuring out the best location for our library to move to. We would like to relocate to a place, which is as central as this one and stay as accessible to our members. We are trying to stay close to Shaikh Zayed Road, with access via the Dubai Metro.”

On June 30, the current location will be closed to public. Faiz says the new location will be announced before that.

The library was moved to Ductac in 2006, and while the volunteers and members have enjoyed their location so far, it has had many homes in the past. It will be celebrating 50 years in 2019 and in 49 years, they have kept the same business model. The library has been managed by volunteers, with an elected management committee overseeing the operation.

Faiz said: “The committee has eight members and nobody is paid here, even though we have a team of 60 volunteers. Out of those, 30 are regulars. We also get student volunteers on a regular basis. Children between the ages of 14 to 18 years can join. We also have sub-committees, a dedicated staff for buying the books.”

All funds raised through subscriptions, book fines and second-hand book sales are used to pay management fees, for the daily upkeep of the library and purchasing new books.

The volunteers work in two shifts — 10am to 2pm and 2 to 6pm, with at least three people working per shift. Whenever a volunteer joins the library, he or she undergoes a strict training process, including four sessions. This includes learning the processes involved in registering new members, letting them borrow books, the rules and how the books are shelved. A roster secretary manages the shifts, to allow smooth operation.

Lakshmi Sethi, one of the volunteers at the library, said: “Volunteers will undergo training and only after that can you join. You are placed with a team and a senior volunteer will train you.”

When asked about why she chose to volunteer, she smiled and said: “Being amidst books is an amazing experience. I come every Sunday, when we have a story time and the library is filled with mums and their children. It’s absolutely great!”

Michele Sadoon, co-chairperson of the library, has been with the organisation for 11 years. She refers to it as a “fantastic place” where it is an honour for her to work.

She said: “In the beginning we didn’t have computers. It was done with little cards and it was all complicated. Our team was smaller, 30 people, and it kept moving constantly. Even now, in the Fall [September] it goes up, as people come back from holiday. But, in the summer, people travel so we lose some volunteers.”

She doesn’t remember how she came to hear about the library. First a member, she was offered a volunteering position and she was ready to take the job for the love of books.

While the volunteers are gearing up to relocate, all of Ductac is also going through similar emotions. Brian Wilkie, founding chairman of Ductac, speaks about a party that was held on the premises last week, which ended up with many people “in tears” as they bid farewell to the current location.

He said: “From what we know, Ductac is going to be relocated to Mirdif City Centre, but we are still not sure what parts of it are being moved. Only two months to go till the deadline, but you cannot build a whole theatre and art galleries in such little time. So, I am a bit pessimistic about it.”

He told the newspaper that it took three years to design and build the current venue. In his opinion, Mirdif will not be a good location because it would be difficult for members and volunteers to get there in the evening, courtesy the Sharjah-bound traffic.

He said: “It’s a difficult place to get to, especially for children. There is no Dubai Metro access, either.”