On libraries

When I was studying in the school in my island, we didn’t have a library (they do now). I don’t even remember thinking about a library, let alone wonder why we don’t have one. Maybe I didn’t even know what a library was. I can’t say for sure, I don’t really remember that much.

But when I moved to Eydhafushi for studies, I was blessed. The school in Eydhafushi had a decent library. Well, I am assuming that it was decent—I didn’t really have anything to compare it with. At any rate, I didn’t have any expectations so I had nothing to complain about.

Then, I fell in love with libraries and books.

I started reading. A lot. Almost everyday, I would wear my uniform and go to the library in the morning, borrow a book (mostly fiction), come back home, finish the book, and again go to the school for regular classes in the afternoon. Next morning, return the book, borrow another and repeat. Granted, I started with relatively small books, but I gradually moved on to reading longer ones that usually took a couple of days to complete. Back then, they had a file for every grade, with a section for every class, with a page for every student. In at least one academic year—my memory is a bit fuzzy here—they had to append another page to the file for me, due to my “extreme” borrowing activities. Once, while lending me a book, the librarian asked: “Don’t you do anything else?”

The library was not small, but you could get the hang of it, or get a general overview of the library (so that you know approximately where to look for a particular book) just by a day or two’s worth of browsing through the aisles. They didn’t have—as far as I know or remember—any method for searching for a particular book, apart from asking the librarians.

When I started my A levels in CHSE, I didn’t get too much of a chance to visit the school library. I had my classes in another building which was too far away from the building with the library. I did visit the library a couple of times, but somehow I didn’t like it very much. Instead, I got a library card from the National Library.

It was after seeing the National Library that I started to realize exactly how a library should be. Big. Spacious. Lots of books. Easy and comfortable ways of searching for the books. Overwhelming (yes!). Friendly. Silent (yass!). Et cetera, et cetera.

There was this huge board on the wall that said ‘Dewey Decimal System’ with some numbers and topics. That was the day I realized that it is how the books are arranged in the library. Before that I had no idea. I wonder why I didn’t ask anybody.

Meanwhile, I paid a visit to the Islamic library at the Islamic Center. Owing to the fact that I was very unfamiliar with Arabic at that time and most of the books I could see were Arabic, not to mention the unwelcome opening hours, I never paid another visit. Perhaps I will find it much more interesting now, especially since what I read now—books, as opposed to what I read on the Internet—is almost always Arabic. I should make a mental note to visit during the holidays. I heard they have had a major upgrade.

Then came my days of working as an assistant librarian, at the Central Library (CL) of Maldives National University (MNU). The few months I worked there was a fascinating and exciting experience for me. I gained a lot of knowledge about something that I deeply admire and love. I studied more about the Dewey Decimal System and realized that it was way more complex than I imagined. I learned how to take care of books. My fascination with books increased tenfold. I finally understood the true significance of libraries—let’s say ‘professional’ libraries—for academic institutions, students and the general public. Now, I can safely assume that I have enough information to set up a decent (?) private library. But, sadly, I don’t have enough books. Not yet.

While working at the CL, I particularly noticed—and appreciated—some things, partly because I had never seen them being used in libraries before (not that I have seen that many libraries). Take, for instance, the special gate at the entrance which sounds an alarm if somebody tried to sneak out a book. This meant that you can bring in any book of your own or even a bag. Apparently this is not universal—the old library of Islamic University and that of the Prophet’s Mosque have a similar gate, but they don’t allow you to bring in any personal books, let alone bags, except notebooks and such. I once asked an employee at the latter whether I can bring in my own book and he looked as if it was the most ridiculous thing he heard all week.

Another thing that I noticed is the system for lending and borrowing books. Almost everything is computerized (even reserving books), although they do have a backup system that is manual (when STELCO is down, out comes the logbook). The computerized system obviously has its perks, which I won’t mention here despite its relevance, and I was somewhat impressed with the whole thing. Not exactly new, I know, but I had never seen such a setup in a library before. Perhaps it looked more impressive because I was behind the counter lending books, rather then borrowing then myself.

Additionally, I got to see what happens behind the scenes. And experience them. I know that sort of work would be done in all the libraries, but hearing about them is not the same as seeing and  experiencing it first hand. Hey, you get to handle the sweet-smelling new books before they are put on the new arrivals shelf. Most of the work are classified, so I can’t divulge that information. Sorry.

When I started my undergraduate studies at Islamic University of Madhinah, I had high hopes. A university of such reputation has got to have a library of similar prominence (is that the definition of a ‘decent’ library?). I can’t say I was completely disappointed. It was big enough, with enough number of books, with enough study desks, with enough resources to do a satisfactory search. Basically, it was enough. But somehow, not unlike the case of the library of CHSE, I didn’t take a liking to it.

Then there is the library of the Prophet’s Mosque. If I can take some one thing from it home, I would take a chair. I mean, they are super comfy. Too bad I always feel sleepy when I sit down to read something.

One thing that I would put on the ‘pros’ section would be the fact that they have a kind of book stands with adjustable slopes and some metal clips to prevent the the pages turning. You put the book on it, adjust the slope, open the book to the page you want and align the clips. This is a big help when copying down something from a book and when you just want to lie back on the comfy chairs and enjoy the book hands-free. Again, this is something that I have yet to see elsewhere.

The library of the Prophet’s Mosque also has a small section for non-Arabic books, along with a lot of  computer systems for reading ebooks and listening to lectures given at the Mosque.

About a month a ago, the university’s new library opened and I have never seen a better library elsewhere.

Let me give you a description. When you enter the library through the first door (yes, there is another), there is a number of lockers on the right and left for safe keeping your stuff (like the National Library). Once you get inside through the second door, you will see a gate (similar to the one I have referred to before), but before that there is an area for, let’s say, resting, to the left and right with nice sofas, coffee tables (not for drinking coffee, I presume, but I don’t really know what to expect from these Arabs) and more lockers.

Immediately behind the electronic gate, there is a circular information desk, to the left and right of which are two devices for lending and returning books. Self-service, bro.

Behind the desk, there are some more sofas—too many sofas, you say? You haven’t seen anything yet—and another desk, but this time more like a counter or service desk. (Maybe I am using the wrong word ‘sofa’ here, but I can’t think of a better word right now, so here is to hoping you get my drift)

Behind this are the stairs (the library had two more floors) and—at last—some book shelves. But if you take a right just after the information desk, you would see some stations for carrying out searches and browsing library catalogues. The rows of book shelves actually begins from here and continues along the walls of the library till a certain number. The rest is upstairs.

As for the chairs, you would see what one might call ordinary chairs around long desks and also beside tables designed to give readers some privacy. In addition to that, there are numerous, comfy looking sofas all around the library, presumably to increase the reading experience.

There are even special scanners for scanning pages of the books and copying to a flash drive. Pretty useful, in my opinion.

And the roof is breathtaking.

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