As Beirut struggles to recover from the massive explosion that shook the Lebanese capital on August 4, the city’s public, academic and school libraries are trying to continue providing community outreach and support while also starting the hard work of repairing badly damaged buildings.
Beirut’s libraries and independent bookstores have long been more than a place to buy or borrow books. In the past several decades, they have also preserved history, acted as community spaces, and provided psychological, social, and academic support for residents of all ages.
Now, like much of the rest of Beirut, they’re coping with damage from the blast while carrying on as well as they can.
Three municipal libraries, more than a hundred schools, and several private libraries took significant damage from the explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 178 people, injured tens of thousands, and left an estimated 300,000 without safe housing. Several library workers were also among the injured.
Two of Beirut’s public libraries will remain closed for what their executive coordinator, Ali Sabbagh, has called “long and expensive” repairs.
Most of the damaged libraries were already closed to the public, either shut down to prevent the spread of Covid-19 or closed for summer holidays. Yet many had continued to provide community outreach. And while Beirut’s residents have pressing needs for food, medicine and shelter in the coming months, libraries can also provide much-needed support.
Extensive Damage at Municipal Libraries
The three municipal libraries damaged in the blast are all run by Assabil Association, a nongovernmental organization founded in 1997 to establish public libraries and promote “culture for all.” Assabil opened Beirut’s first public library in 2001 and now serves more than 35,000 annual visitors, hosting more than a hundred cultural events each year.