The two branches of the Edward Said Library — the first of which opened in 2017 and the second in 2019 — are for all readers in Gaza. However, “many of its activities are directed at children,” said the library’s founder, Gazan poet and scholar Mosab Abu Toha.
“Most of Gaza’s population are young, and they need support in different ways,” Abu Toha said. “There are many talented children in Gaza,” and the “libraries work with them to develop their skills.”
He added that there are also spaces for adults to meet and “talk about literature, culture, and social concerns on a weekly basis.”
The library’s two branches, one in Beit Lahia and the other in Gaza City, house more than 2,000 books in Arabic and English. Of their more than 4,000 users, more than 2,100 are children. The library also encourages and supports young readers by sharing news about their accomplishments and offering books as gifts, Abu Toha said.
“Every day, you find a group of children sitting around a table, either reading on their own or with a member of the staff,” Abu Toha said. “There are also writing workshops for young writers, drawing activities, music lessons, and computer courses. Hundreds of children and adults check in to the libraries. Hundreds of books are borrowed by different people around Gaza.”
The new fundraising campaign, which seeks to raise $20,000 US, is not only to fund and support the library’s existing projects, but also to start new ones. “The libraries needs new books, especially children’s books,” Abu Toha said. “Moreover, the North Gaza branch, which opened in 2017, is moving to a larger place to address the increasing numbers of visitors and readers. Additionally, we are preparing a computer lab for the North Gaza branch, like the one the second branch has.”
Like other libraries around the world, these two libraries have faced the challenges of Covid-19 shutdowns. But these libraries have not only faced the challenge of slowing the spread of the pandemic. The pandemic has also worsened Gaza’s electricity challenges, Abu Toha said, “because the Israel border points through which fuel gets into Gaza are closed more than before.”
“Another challenge is the internet connections, which works at a snail’s pace in Gaza,” he said. “Not all people have laptops or phones to attend activities online when the libraries work virtually.”
However, he added, “the libraries are committed to serving the Gazan population, whether during the lockdown or without it. Such scenarios are part of a Gazan life. We cannot stop.”