The Al Ras Public Library in Dubai Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: With 462,000 books lining shelves across the city, Dubai’s public libraries provide an indispensable service to the city’s residents.

In many ways, the story of the public libraries is the story of Dubai itself. It begins with a small hall in Al Ras, overlooking the creek, built in 1963 under the behest of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Today, there are eight public libraries across Dubai, including an electronic library in Umm Suqeim, housing everything from references and periodicals to children’s books and video and audio recordings.

"As a part of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the Dubai public libraries seek to supplement the incredible advancement of the emirate and the nation in every field, especially that of culture and knowledge," says Abdulrahman Ibrahim, the director of the libraries.

To that end, the libraries’ collection grew 8.7 per cent in 2012, acquiring over 37,000 new material over the past year, including books, CDs and other materials. Much of these come from book fairs, and the Dubai public libraries have been to fairs in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi as well as international fairs in Madrid and Italy.

Ibrahim says that the libraries apply a deft hand in choosing new materials, "taking into consideration the diversity of the Dubai Public Libraries’ consumers in terms of age, culture, education and language…while maintaining the UAE’s Arab and Islamic identity."

With that in mind, there is an emphasis in the libraries on work that is locally published by Emirati writers, which the libraries make widely available within the UAE as well as the region, exchanging them with neighboring countries.

Children also occupy a significant part of the libraries’ resources, with an entire branch of the libraries’ services dedicated to them. With the exception of the original library in Al Ras, all the libraries have children’s sections, and public and private schools often arrange visits to the libraries.

"The children’s libraries are one of the most important institutions that impact a child’s personality and his/her talents and abilities," declares the libraries’ pamphlet, and the libraries have taken this concept to heart. Children’s libraries provide a number of educational activities for little ones, such as screening movies, holding different contests in painting and knowledge and organizing workshops and training sessions for kids.

Additionally, the libraries hold multipurpose rooms and study rooms to provide a more private space for library users to study or work.

Ibrahim says that the libraries are constantly looking to improve their services. Dubai libraries were among the first in the region to move to a fully automated system, implementing an electronic indexing system in the late 1990s, and they continue to move towards the latest in library technologies.