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The Lost World of University Libraries

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 11

There was a time in Riyadh when people weren’t glued to the screens of their phones and when the most popular sites in town were actually libraries. I remember those days, when I was a young university student, who visited our country’s glorious libraries to enrich my knowledge and travel, through books, to faraway lands. I specifically remember the library of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, which I used to frequent a lot. It has many unique books that weren’t available in other libraries. I remember spending hours in that building reading heritage texts and Islamic writings. When I found a book that was of interest, I would photocopy select pages so I could continue to read it at home. To this very day, I still have a stack of snippets of books I photocopied more than twenty years ago. Make no mistake: I wasn’t the only one who loved that library. Most students I knew enjoyed spending time in it; if not for the books then for the building’s beautiful architecture and the unique atmosphere it had inside. I remember the mosque next to the library in which I often prayed and sometimes worshippers would come into the library and look at books. Another library I loved was the King Fahd National Library, where several notable authors, including Abdullah Abdul Mohsen, Muhammad Al-Qasimi and Abd al-Karim al-Juhayman, used to work. I would often find them sitting in there working on their manuscripts. It was there that some of the most important books on the social, cultural and political history of Saudi Arabia were written. These libraries were places of research, discussion and learning. They provided us with a platform to engage with diverse ideas and expand our horizons. And they were a centerpiece of our educational experience. Before social media platforms corrupted our minds and confined us to our screens, there was a special and vigorous world of libraries that drew our attention. – Hassan Al-Mustafa (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)