CEO of Emirates Literature Foundation, Isobel Abulhoul. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Has the face of school libraries changed given the onslaught of digital media? Ask Isobel Abulhoul, CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation and Director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, and she says libraries in well-run schools have always been a place that students like to visit. “Before the age of digitisation, there were no computers, internet or e-books, but there were row upon row of shelves, filled with books, neatly organised so that you could find the book you were looking for. A feature then and today as well is the lovely displays of books dotted around the library to tempt even the most reluctant of readers,” she tells XPRESS in an interview ahead of the announcement of a new award for school librarians. Excerpts:

How can a librarian motivate students to read?

When a child first goes to primary school, the librarian has a vital role to play. This person will introduce the library and how it works, and read interesting stories each time the child visits. It is different from the classroom and young children really look forward to a visit to the school library. As time goes on, the librarian will notice what each child likes to read and point out when new books arrive, and help children find other books they may like.

What is the trend with borrowing? How would you compare demand for the good old texts vis-a-vis digital versions?

In schools, physical books are still widely borrowed on a regular basis. For example, my grandson aged four years, brings home two books each week. He loves being able to choose himself, and the chance to visit the school library is a highlight for him and the other children in his class.

What is the new school librarian initiative about?

Libraries in schools have played a pivotal role in many of our lives, and in the lives of our favourite authors. As a foundation, we encourage and nurture a culture of reading amongst young people, and in the Year of Reading, it is important to recognise the amazing work that school librarians do to encourage students on their reading journeys.

Through the new School Librarian of the Year Award, we will celebrate the inspiring work of the UAE’s best school librarians in Arabic and international schools. We firmly believe that it is important to recognise and celebrate the wonderful job school librarians are doing, by rewarding the best of the best through the award. School librarians will no longer be unsung heroes and we can all celebrate their important contribution to their students’ regular reading habits.

Who qualifies for the award?

Anyone who is working in a school library in the UAE can qualify. The award will recognise outstanding and exemplary work by a school librarian covering any age groups up to age 18. Nominations are invited from colleagues, headteachers, students, governors, parents and anyone with an interest in school librarianship. Self-nominations are also welcome.

What is the award?

The winners will receive fantastic prizes, acknowledging the pivotal role they play in creating the next generation of readers. Each of these prizes will be awarded to a librarian in an Arabic-language school library and to a librarian in an international school library:

First Place: Trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter for four people, to include flights, accommodation and entry to the studio tour; visit to the British library; visit to a school library in the UK; an item of library furniture; voucher for Dh2,000 for library books

Second Place: Visit to Legoland Dubai for four people; voucher for Dh1,500 for library books

Third place: Voucher for Dh1,500 for library books

Fourth place: Voucher for Dh1,000 for library books

Highly Commended: Voucher for Dh500 books