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Literary lighthouse

Spread over one million square metres, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is the largest cultural centre in the region with more than 600,000 titles spanning 300 subjects

Intricately designed to resemble the shape of a rehl – the traditional wooden stand used to hold the Holy Quran – the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is the latest addition to Dubai’s long list of attractions. More than half a decade in the making, this one-billion-dirham project became the largest cultural centre in the region and the biggest library in the Arab world when it opened its doors earlier this year in June.

Overlooking Dubai Creek, this seven-storey structure champions one of Dubai’s most ambitious cultural initiatives, which was to establish a lighthouse of knowledge, culture and creativity. Spread over one million square metres, it houses more than 600,000 titles spanning 300 subjects, with the objective to expand its collection to millions of books from around the world.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library was announced in 2016, during the UAE’s National Year of Reading, and it brings to life the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The creation of this stunning space was an important part of a series of initiatives to promote and encourage literacy and reading in society.

In today’s technologically-savvy world, the library aims to stimulate a passion for books among those living in the UAE, and the youth in particular, by offering free access to one of the largest collections of books in the region, other knowledge resources and reliable sources of information.

One of the most important objectives of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is to shine a spotlight on Arabic literature, culture and heritage. To this end, the library offers free access to both modern and rare Arabic literary works, including old texts that can only be accessed in this state-of-the-art space.

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library is comprised of ten main sections: general, young adults, children, information, maps and atlases, media and arts, business and periodicals as well as the Emirates library and a division for special literary collections. In addition to the physical inventory, the centre provides access to an endless variety of ebooks and other digital media.

There is also an audiobook library, which is a fantastic resource for everyone and is especially useful to the visually impaired or those with reading difficulties. Furthermore, the library is also expanding its range of Braille books.

While the variety is endless, retrieving a title could not be easier as the library is powered by artificial intelligence, which means that once a title has been requested, a robotic vehicle locates the book among thousands of shelves and delivers the book to the reader at the information centre.

On the topmost level – the seventh floor – visitors will find the Treasures of the Library exhibition. On display is an impressive collection of rare and old books, atlases and manuscripts, some of which date back to the 13th century. The inventory includes unique copies of the Holy Quran, early print editions of literary classics and Latin translations of scholarly works from the Islamic Golden Age.

Among the rare exhibits is the first edition of Atlas Maior of Blaeu, the crowning achievement of the famous 17th-century Dutch cartographer Johannes Blaeu. It was published in 1662 in 11 volumes and contains about 600 individual maps.

The exhibition also includes the first edition of Napoleon’s Description de l’Égypte, an encyclopedic record of Egyptian antiquities and Egyptian history in the 18th century.

The exhibition also showcases rare first editions of Arabic periodicals, a collection of autographs by famous world personalities and traditional tools used for calligraphy and bookbinding.

Outside these inspiring halls, the library is also home to an amphitheatre, the Languages Garden (featuring pillars etched with the words of the ruler) and a café that is spread over two floors. During the cooler months, the outdoor spaces will host intimate programmes and performances that will cater to the emirate’s cultural community. 

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