Monday, March 28, 2011

Librarian Mecca: Bibliotheca Alexandrina!

 As many of you know, I happen to have an occupational predilection towards libraries.  They excite me with their stores of fantastic knowledge and excellent organization.  Also, the big deal ones?  They tend to be kind of architecturally gorgeous.  Also:  books.  They've got them!  For all these reasons and more (as in, hello opportunity to visit the worlds first library even though the original was burned like six times so it's really not the real deal but whatever), I was stoked to visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  And let me have you know: it is worth a trip.  I gasped when I walked in.  It is really that impressive, huge, and flat out architecturally gorgeous.  I want to go to there every day.  I want to work there.  I want to sneak in and live there in the way that the kids in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler live in the Met.  No joke.  Am I gushing?  Is the Pope Catholic?  Deal.  I warned you of my occupational predilection.  

If you go there, know these things.  Leave yourself a while if you really want to explore; the library is huge and in the hour and halfish that I had there, I felt I barely scratched the surface.  I never made it to the rare books, and I completely skipped the museums they have.  I wouldn't call it a stretch to say you could spend a whole day there if you want.  You have to check your bag outside, but they allow you to carry in whatever you want, ie. cell phones, laptops, notebooks, and yes, CAMERAS.  I went a little hog wild.  Other things to know are that the library is huge huge huge.  The main area is the home of the adult collection; namely reference and nonfiction.  However, there is an art collection that is on display in the main floor area.  Each level (and there are like 15 step-like levels) hold books, desks, computers, etc.  It is clean, it is organized, it is open.  It is what all libraries should look like.  I was personally delighted to discovered that the Bibliotheca Alexandria appears to catalog using a little cataloging system that you many have heard of: Dewey.  That's right.  DEWEY.  I don't know why this surprised me; maybe I thought that they'd be so elite as to have their own secret system?  Or at least snobbish enough (sorry academic librarians) to use the ever confusing LC? Also, books of all languages are cataloged by subject.  As in, any given bookshelf could contains books in many languages on the same subject.  It was kind of cool to see them all mixed in together, particularly because writing scripts are so widely different and look so beautiful together!

As you will see in the photo's below, I managed to get into the children's room and the young people's room.  Being a nonthreateningly small woman has its perks, my friends.  I felt it was slightly creepy to take pictures of the children's room, but took a few in the young people's room of books...not of kids.  But both rooms were CRAWLING with kids.  Seriously.  Jam packed.  It was what you want to see in a library.  Both rooms had lots of books, lots of computers, lots of patron artwork, and lots of friendly staff.  I was tickled to see a guybrarian working the circ desk in the children's room, and then remembered that the male to female librarian ratio is probably reverse in Egypt.  The CR even had a room filled with tiny, kid sized computer desks.  Yay! There are some pictures up on the library's website that give a flavor for what the rooms look like.

All parts of the library had art displays up commemorating the recent Revolution.  It was really cool to see, especially the kids artwork.  I'm always struck when I see things like tanks and guns in kids art, and not surprisingly it was a big feature in what was on display.  I'm not sure if this has to do with the art contest commemorating the martyrs of the Revolution that is posted on the website, but it was really a cool thing to see, nonetheless.

The other cool thing I checked out was the Taha Hussein Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  Having visited Perkins during grad school, I was very interested to see what the room looked like and what they had.    I didn't have too much time, so I more surface area explored.  Someone was using a computer that had huge huge text, so that was a cool feature.  There is also a shelf of books in Braille, which I think is the same Braille as we use. I'd be curious to know if it is in English or if there is also an Arabic Braille.  But, like I said, time was short and I didn't linger too long.  I was really just glad to see that it exists!

And, in library gossip, I heard from several people that Suzanne Mubarek, wife of a certain former president of Egypt, had sole signing authority over a bank account designated for the library that held funds from places like UNESCO.  As in, only she could take money the money out.  Not the librarians!  Scandal!  I'm not sure if this means funds were absconded with and/or never made it to the actual library as they were meant to, or if it was fine, but just stupid stupid stupid of her.  Chime in if you know more!

 Without further ado, enjoy my photographic voyage through the Bibliotheca Alexandrina:

It all started at Cilantro, an Egyptian Starbucksesque coffee house chain, where we stopped to get some caffeine and sugar following our early train ride up to Alexandria from Cairo.  Our teenage waiter took a bit of a shine to Becky and gave her this tiny Egyptian flag!

This is the original ancient librarian.  His statue was found in the harbor; archaeologists are fairly certain that it was toppled by Cleopatra when he wouldn't waive her late fees.  Yeah, I made that up.  I have no idea who or what this is.  It's right outside the library though, so I feel my story works.

This facade from one outer edge of the library purportedly has every ancient written language on it. The other part of the library is covered in glass and shaped like a discus, allegedly to mimic the sun?  Or so my Lonely Planet Guide claims.

Behold! Awesomeness of the view of the main level of the library.

Gasp!  This place is levels and levels of gorgeous, inspiring, airy architecture and knowledge!

Oh snap, DEWEY.  You certainly get around!

Is this not the prettiest glob you've ever seen?  I had to take a photoshoot of it.  Recognize that continent? I love that they chose a white stone for Canada.  Because it's snowy.  Teeheehee!

Note that I am standing in Africa, taking a picture of Africa.  Self high five.

Is it a rule that books about boys literacy have to have cheesy covers?  Because spotting this one in the stacks made me chuckle.

Taha Hussein Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired

An interactive piece in the main lobby which invited visitors and native Egyptians to put up a post-it of their thoughts on the Revolution. 

This picture happened because the tour guide was showing the group some websites for research that I often show my students.  Self high five!

A diorama of the Revolution made by kids and on display outside of the Children's Room at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

An Egyptian flag featuring the drawings of kids experiences of the Egyptian Revolution, directly next to the doors of the Children's Room at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Entrance to the Children's Room at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  The whole place was Disneyed out inside too!  It was filled with tons of kids, staff, and lots and lots of picture books!

Young People's Room entrance, Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Maybe you've heard of these? Check out the Arabic language versions!  I saw some in a store that had red edged bindings.  You know, like blood.

Oh, Young People's Room in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  You had me hook line and sinker when I walked in, but you really sealed the deal with these.

This is Becky, not being creepy at all as she attempts to take a picture of the kids using the library through the stacks after I said it made me feel really questionable to do it but wanted a picture. 

A banner about the Revolution, made by teens in the Young People's Room at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

 Isn't it totally awesome?  You should all go too!  A post tomorrow (maybe, I have to like, go back to work, boo to vacation not lasting forever!) on the experience that was the Pyramids at Giza.

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