The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (English: Library of Alexandria; Arabic: مكتبة الإسكندرية Maktabat al-Iskandarīyah, Egyptian Arabic: [mækˈtæb(e)t eskendeˈɾejjæ]) is a major library and cultural center located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It is both a commemoration of the Library of Alexandria that was lost in antiquity, and an attempt to rekindle something of the brilliance that this earlier center of study and erudition represented.
The idea of reviving the old library dates back to 1974, when a committee set up by Alexandria University selected a plot of land for its new library, between the campus and the seafront, close to where the ancient library once stood. The notion of recreating the ancient library was adopted by other individuals and agencies. One leading supporter of the project was former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; UNESCO was also quick to embrace the concept of endowing the Mediterranean region with a center of cultural and scientific excellence. An architectural design competition was organized by UNESCO in 1988 to choose a design worthy of the site and its heritage. The competition was won by Snøhetta, a Norwegian architectural office, from among more than 1,400 entries. The first pledges were made for funding the project at a conference held in 1990 in Aswan: USD $65 million, mostly from the Arab states. Construction work began in 1995 and, after some USD $220 million had been spent, the complex was officially inaugurated on 16 October 2002.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is trilingual, containing books in Arabic, English, and French. In 2010, the library received a donation of 500,000 books from the National Library of France, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). The gift makes the Bibliotheca Alexandrina the sixth-largest Francophone library in the world. The BA also is now the largest depository of French books in the Arab world, surpassing those of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, in addition to being the main French library in Africa.
The dimensions of the project are vast: the library has shelf space for eight million books, with the main reading room covering 20,000 square metres (220,000 sq ft) on eleven cascading levels. The complex also houses a conference center; specialized libraries for maps, multimedia, the blind and visually impaired, young people, and for children; four museums; four art galleries for temporary exhibitions; 15 permanent exhibitions; a planetarium; and a manuscript restoration laboratory. The library’s architecture is equally striking. The main reading room stands beneath a 32-meter-high glass-panelled roof, tilted out toward the sea like a sundial, and measuring some 160 m in diameter. The walls are of gray Aswan granite, carved with characters from 120 different human scripts.
The collections at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina were donated from all over the world. The Spanish donated documents that detailed their period of Moorish rule. The French also donated, giving the library documents dealing with the building of the Suez Canal.
The BA/IA partnership is built with the aims to preserve heritage for future generations and to provide universal access to human knowledge. The BA maintains a mirror and external backup of the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive donated five million USD to the BA, including:
The library provides access to print on demand books via the Espresso Book Machine.
The Main Library is a learning space that offers information in all its forms: book collections, periodicals, maps, manuscripts, multimedia, and electronic resources. Most importantly, it offers customized services to all its users, such as students, researchers, disabled people, and the general public. As one of the BA’s main sectors, the Library Sector has many functions, responsibilities, and goals. It seeks to establish itself as an international center of excellence through its collection of books, periodicals, maps, multimedia, and electronic resources, and most importantly, customized services to its users. The BA is a new form of learning space that is designed to bring the community of learners together to partake in knowledge in all its formats. The mind boggling structure and the comfort enhanced interior, combined with the multitude of services, help in creating a first-rate environment that augments the library users learning opportunities, and cultural and intellectual interactions. The open access shelves display the library collection through a reading area which cascades over the seven levels of the library and accommodates 2,000 readers under its roof. Museums, exhibitions, a conference center, and other entities are all within a few steps from the reading area. It is truly a place that appeals to all five senses.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina contains seven specialized libraries: The Children’s Library, The Young People’s Library, The Microforms Library, The Rare Books and Special Collections Library, The Taha Hussein Library for the visually-impaired, the Nobel Section, and the Arts & Multimedia Library.
The Children’s (CH) Library provides educational, recreational, and cultural resources for children ages 6 to 11. It aims at opening a window for Egyptian children to the world, preparing a generation to face the challenges imposed by the digital age. The main objective of the CH Library are develop the children’s reading, research, and creativity skills through different programs and activities. The CH Library contains a collection of more than 15,000 volumes. This collection includes picture books, easy-to-read books, reference materials, and multimedia items. The collection is available in many languages, covering a wealth of different and intellectually stimulating subjects. A computer lab, monitored by the CH library’s staff, offers a safe environment for children to explore the many exciting websites and to learn how to do research in a library. The Children’s Library includes a reading hall, TV and video corner, computer lab, storytelling and puppet-show theater as well as an artistic and handicrafts corner.
The Mission of the Young People’s Library is „to introduce young people to library resources and information technology, develop their awareness and knowledge, encourage social interaction between young people, and develop their reading and research skills.“ The four main goals of the YP are the following:
Young People’s Library (YP) opens up a vast world of knowledge, entertainment, culture, and information for youth ages 12 to 16 years. The YP Library introduces young adults to modern information technology, develops their global awareness and knowledge, encourages social interaction in and out of the library, and develops their reading and research skills. YP librarians follow school curricula in order to ensure availability of support materials to help students prepare their research assignments using BA resources in print and non-print format. The collection of books in the YP Library covers the same subject areas as the Main Library, but takes into consideration young adults‘ special needs and requirements. The YP Library offers access to digitized books, periodicals, multimedia and e-resources, with free access to the Student Resource Center database covering most subject areas.
The Microforms Library in the BA houses thousands of rare documents and manuscripts preserved on microform. This medium is used as preservation against potential loss or damage resulting from excessive circulation and age. Also, it allows increased access to rare pieces without having to handle the original. The Microforms Library contains 15 distinct main collections, national and Arabic periodicals, and slide collections.
The Rare Books and Special Collections Library contains rare books, maps, momentous documents of renowned figures, as well as a number of personal libraries of celebrities accessible only to postgraduate researchers. The rare book collection comprises over 10,000 books and documents dated between the 16th century and early 20th century. They cover a wide scale of subjects including: philosophy, psychology, religion, social sciences, languages, natural sciences, mathematics, applied sciences, fine arts, literature, geography, history, etc. It is a sub-section of the Manuscript Museum.
The Taha Hussein Library for the Visually Impaired (TH) contains materials for the blind and visually impaired using special software that makes it possible for readers to access all the library’s resources as wells as some web resources. It is named after Taha Hussein, the Egyptian professor of Arabic and literary critic and one of the leading figures of the Arab Renaissance (Nahda) in literature, who was himself blinded at the age of three. The TH Library is equipped with special software packages and equipment that allow its users to access the Library’s Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) and other e-resources, including accessibility compliant websites. The Mission Statement of the TH is as follows; „The Taha Hussein Library is a new concept, opening new horizons for the blind and visually impaired, enabling them to access all the resources the BA has to offer, as well as the resources available on the Internet. The TH Library will introduce the TH users to a new world, providing them with the opportunity to access a vast range of information, independently and quickly.“ There are four eligible groups the TH services: the legally blind, the partially blind (who require a medical or governmental certificate of proof), the both legally deaf and blind, and users with reading disabilities who cannot use standard materials.
The Arts & Multimedia Library is one of Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s specialized libraries and is located on level B3. The library contains a print and audio/visual collection on the Arts, such as Painting, Architecture, Music, Cinema, Theater, Sports and Recreational art, etc. The print collection includes of books, scores, and periodicals; and the audio/visual collection consists of sound recordings, such as CDs, audiotapes, phonograph records, videotapes, DVDs, and open reel, and other formats. The Audiovisual materials covers a broad spectrum of motion pictures, documentary films, educational programs, and self teaching methods on languages and computers. Also included are complete conference proceedings, musical performances, and cultural activities that took place at Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The Audiovisual materials may be used in individual or group study rooms within the library. The Arts & Multimedia Library provides its services to the general public, students, researchers and art connoisseurs. The Arts & Multimedia library is responsible for the acquisition, registration, classification and cataloging of all audiovisual materials of the main and specialized libraries of the BA, in coordination with the other technical units of the BA.
The Arts & Multimedia Library Mission Statement is that it „will be a unique center of knowledge at the heart of the Arab world, Africa, and the Mediterranean region. It will function as an integral part of a fabric of information and learning that stretches across the nation and the world.“
Contains book collections of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature from 1901 to present. The Nobel Section was inaugurated by Queen Silvia of Sweden and Queen Sonja of Norway on 24 April 2002. The Nobel Section is dedicated to serving mainly scholars and researchers. It is furnished with a replica of the furniture and lighting designed specially for the Nobel Institute in Stockholm (opened in 1918) and for the meeting room of the Swedish Cabinet. There are strict guidelines to using the NS including a one hour time limit per visit. The Nobel Section has three parts. The Nobel Room is the main access point for researchers to access the collection. It houses the works of Nobel Laureates since 1901 in the winner’s original language with many translations, mostly in Arabic, English, and French. The Rad Rausing Auditorium is named for the Swedish Rausing family who were large donors to the creation of the Nobel Section. The Söderberg Lounge, named for the Söderberg family, also donors instrumental in the creation of the Nobel Section. The Lounge is where users can access the Nobel e-Museum, a virtual museum consisting of digital information about Prizes awarded since 1901.
Established in 2001, the BA Antiquities Museum is the first archeological museum to be situated within a library. The primary aims of the museum are to promote research, creativity, and cultural awareness. Holding approximately 1,316 artifacts, the Antiquities Museum collection provides a glimpse into Egyptian history from the Pharaonic era to the conquest of Alexander the Great to the Roman civilizations before the advent of Islam across Egypt. The collection includes underwater antiquities from the Mediterranean seabed near the Eastern Harbour and the Bay of Abukir.
The museum provides descriptions of artifacts in three languages: English, Arabic, and French.
The Manuscript Museum provides visitors and researchers with rare manuscripts and books. Established in 2001, the Manuscript Museum contains the world’s largest collection of digital manuscripts. It is an academic institution that is affiliated to the Library of Alexandria. The stated aims of the museum are to preserve heritage, foster human cadres in the conservation and restoration of manuscripts, and create a generation of new restorers.
The Manuscript Museum operates alongside the Manuscript Center, which provides digital access to more than 6,000 rare books, maps, and documents within the museum’s collection. There are three sections housed within the museum:
This museum contains many different personal belongings of the Egyptian president Anwar Al Sadat. The collections include some of his military robes, his Nobel Prize medal, his copy of the Qur’an, a few of his handwritten letters, pictures of him and his family, and the blood stained military robe he wore the day of his assassination. The museum also contains a recording in his voice of part of the Qur’an and assorted newspaper articles written about him.
See History of science
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina hosts fifteen permanent exhibitions, ten of which are contemporary Egyptian art exhibitions.
Permanent Contemporary Egyptian Art Exhibitions:
The culturama hall consists of a huge 180-degree panoramic interactive computer screen with a diameter of 10 meters that is made up of nine separate flat screens arranged in a semicircle and nine video projectors controlled by a single computer. Culturama has enabled the display of information that could never have been displayed clearly using a regular computer display system.
It was developed by the Egyptian Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CULTNAT) and holds its patent in 2007.
It displayed 3 periods from the history of Egypt:
Virtual Immersive Science and Technology Applications. It uses CAVE Technology. VISTA features several projects including
The Digital Assets Repository (DAR) is a system developed at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) by the International School of Information Science (ISIS) to create and maintain digital library collections and preserve them to future generations, as well as providing free public access to the library’s digitized collections through a web-based search and browsing facilities via DAR’s website.
The current director is Ismail Serageldin. He also chairs the Boards of Directors for each of the BA’s affiliated research institutes and museums and is a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina held a variety of symposiums in 2011 in support of the Egyptian community and emphasizing the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the Egyptian Constitution and Democratic Government in Arab nations. The library also displays a photo gallery of the January 25, 2011 revolution and is working to document it in a wide variety of formats.
Criticism of the library comes chiefly from two angles. Many allege that the library is a white elephant impossible for modern Egypt to sustain, and serves as little more than a vanity project for the Egyptian government. Furthermore, there are fears that censorship, long the bane of Egyptian academia, would affect the library’s collection. In addition, the building’s elaborate architecture (which imitates a rising Sun) upset some who believed too much money was being spent on construction rather than the library’s actual collection. Due to the lack of available funds, the library had only 500,000 books in 2002, low compared to other national libraries. (However, in 2010 the library received an additional 500,000 books from the Bibliothèque nationale de France.) It has been estimated that it will take 80 years to fill the library to capacity at the current level of funding. The library relies heavily on donations to buy books for its collections.