A Saudi women’s initiative to encourage book reading

The initiative, encouraging citizens to read, has amassed 1,000 books.
Friday 07/12/2018
For broader horizons. Visitors browse through books during a community gathering in Khobar. (Twitter)
For broader horizons. Visitors browse through books during a community gathering in Khobar. (Twitter)

LONDON - Under the slogan “We read to build a civilisation,” women in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar initiated a mobile book exchange programme through an association that aims to recirculate used books.

Their initiative, encouraging citizens to read, has amassed 1,000 books. At the end of each month, dozens of participants gather for a reading session led by one of the women on a book in the “Iqra’ni” programme, which uses social media to reach out to women interested in reading and culture.

The women set up a tent at a community gathering to publicise the initiative and passers-by are drawn by the slogan “Take a book. Leave a book.” Under the tent, tables hold used books. Interested readers exchange their own books for others, allowing more people the opportunity to read a wider variety of works and broaden their horizons.

The initiative was the idea of Alia Nooh, the founder of the popular “Iqra’ni” Club. Hundreds of people attend its events and browse thousands of books.

Nooh said such initiatives contribute to cultural activities and is one among a many other initiatives and events encouraging people to read.

The tent at a recent gathering held a wide variety of books spanning many fields and which were classified according to Arabic and English, she said. There were also children’s books and magazines.

Sanaa Samara, who manages the initiative, said: “Used books do not lose their value after (they are read) for the first time. Some readers keep them forever, sometimes as badges of honour but books also pile up on shelves despite not losing their value.”

Cultural activities like these pass on the love of reading and spread culture throughout society. They aim to attract larger audiences keen to attend the events. Each of the activities provides a significant social added value.

These cultural initiatives have effects beyond the individual and become shared social experiences. Supervisors of the initiatives become attentive to the specific reading tastes of the audiences.

The reading initiative has caught the interest of other cities in Saudi Arabia and similar programmes have begun in Medina and Riyadh.

The reading initiative includes seasonal reading campaigns. The latest, titled “Here is My Book,” encouraged participants to donate books for others to borrow. In a very short time, participants had donated hundreds of books from various fields and described the initiative as a unique experience.