Hands Around The Library Author's Blog

Blog posts from Karen Leggett Abouraya and Susan L. Roth, the authors of The Hands Around The Library - Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.

The Author's Blog

In 1969, Azza Fahmy was designing covers for Egyptian government political publications. At the Cairo International Book Fair that year – yes the same one underway right now in Cairo! – she was intrigued by a book about jewelry from the Middle Ages and her life took a dramatic turn.  She apprenticed herself to a jewelry maker in Khan al-Khalili and eventually became the first lady of cultural jewelry in Egypt – translating the culture and traditions of Egypt into elegant jewelry with silver, gold and precious stones.

Fahmy continues to design the jewelry that bears her name but now it is crafted by 200 artisans who bring those designs to life in a workshop in 6 October City.  During our recent trip to Egypt when we visited the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, we also traveled to Azza Fahmy’s workshop.


Each craftsman (and they are overwhelmingly men) works at a specific task – cutting, setting stones, engraving, polishing. There are workers, apprentices and masters. A worker could choose to learn a new task but would need to start all over from the bottom.  The youngest workers are drawn from art schools, informal networks – and now from her own recently established Azza Fahmy Design Studio in old Cairo, where she counsels students, "Be original and do not imitate other people's work or trends. Create your own visualisation of the future and stay proud of your own heritage." (Cairo360)  Fahmy’s Egyptian heritage inspires her creativity – each piece reflects an ancient design – much of it pictured in her book Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt - or includes engraved verses from the Quran or memorable lines from the songs of the legendary Om Kalsoum.

The silver for Fahmy’s creations still comes from the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. It is heated and turned into thin spaghetti strands which the artisans weave into chains or carefully mold around an amethyst or emerald from India. It takes one month to make a one meter silver chain. The engraved designs and verses are drawn on the computer, printed on plastic and molded in mud before they are pressed into silver or gold. No more than 60 pieces is made from each design.


Azza Fahmy warmly greeted visitors during a recent tour of her workshop, wearing an embroidered shawl and – of course – one of her own rings and pendants. Where does she keep getting ideas? She points to her head, adding “loving my country.”

Azza Fahmy with Karen and Tharwat AbourayaA. Fahmy remembered making this necklade in 1993!

Hits: 136

They come by busload and one at a time, from young children to college students - lining up to enter the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) for tours, research and reading, learning and discussing.

The Children’s Library is bright and colorful, filled with books in many languages as well as puppets for storytelling, computers and movie rooms.  The Young People’s Library - for youngsters age 12 to 16 - includes informational books but also titles popular with Western teens, like the Twilight series.

Lines of young people await entry to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina


Librarian Marwa Seifeldeen w/puppet Bakar

Accessing Facebook in the Young People's Library

Twilight in the Young People's Library

Young People's Library 

In November 2014, the Friends of the BA in Maryland/D.C./Virginia (of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee) delivered just over 200 new books to these libraries - all purchased with funds raised through the First Book Virtual Book Drive in March 2014 and the May 31 Celebration in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The First Book Global Marketplace, the international arm of the American literacy organization First Book, shipped and delivered half the books. The other half were hand-delivered in suitcases by Friends co-chairs Tharwat and Karen Leggett Abouraya. All the titles were selected by the library staff, including Sylvia Stavridi, Collection Development Coordinator for Special Libraries, and Ingi Abdelkader, Head of the Children’s Library Section. 

 BA staff Ingi Abdelkader, Sylvia Stavridi, Marwa Seifeldeen with Karen Leggett Abouraya

The First Book Global Marketplace makes deeply discounted children’s books available to organizations that meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. 70% or more of the population you work with is in-need.

2. Your organization works with disabled children.

3. Your organization works with people affected by recent natural disasters.

The BA library staff expressed interest in obtaining more audio books, DVDs and books in Arabic from both Egyptian and foreign publishers. The Friends will be looking for opportunities to assist with these requests.

Through the generosity of Hands Around the Library  artist Susan L. Roth - whose visit to the BA in 2009 inspired the book in the first place - we also delivered original art from the book to the Children’s Library and also to Dr. Ismail Serageldin. 

 BA Director Ismail Serageldin, Karen, Nadia Abouraya

One of the founders of the Baltimore Friends of the BA, Abdelwahab Elabd, is also working on developing a lending library at the BA for blind readers, similar to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress in the United States.  The BA already has the Taha Hussein Library which uses special software to enable blind and visually handicapped readers to access books and journals. 

It was a great joy to hold hands with the BA staff who are working with such energy and passion to keep children excited about the world around them through books - we look forward to our continuing collaboration.

Hits: 257

Egyptian artist Nabil Makir writes on his website, “Everybody must do his part in the world. Artists cannot carry guns or be doctors, but they can express themselves with their brushes and pencils. There must be mutual understanding.”

The creative angst and hope of Egyptian as well as other Middle Eastern and American artists is on dramatic display at two exhibitions in Washington, D.C. right now – “AMEN – A Prayer for the World” and Helen Zughaib’s “Fractured Spring” at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery.   AMEN is a project of CARAVAN, an intercultural and inter-religious arts initiative to build connections between Middle East and Western populations. The AMEN exhibit has already been in Cairo and will move next month to New York City.

For the CARAVAN exhibit at Washington’s National Cathedral, Egyptian artist Reda Abdel Rahman made life-size fiberglass human forms modeled after the ancient Egyptian god Amun, each in one of four different poses of prayer. The forms were given to 30 Egyptian and 18 Western artists to decorate. Collectively, they are a stunning call to each of us to listen, reach out and connect with those we consider “other.”



About his own statue, Abdel Rahman wrote, “I imagined myself in front of Queen Hatshepsut or Queen Tiy or Nefertari. This queen is the mother of our people, and from her body extends all goodness in the form of branches giving joy and comfort and good fortune, personified by the turquoise scarabs that she bestows on everyone. She has sat down on Set, the ancient Egyptian god of evil, as a sign of her control over the circumstances and all the evil forces of political Islam, who have wronged the Egyptian civilization.


b2ap3_thumbnail_Harpform.jpgAmerican artist Amy Gray recalled buying her first harp, when its maker told her,  "' The instrument needs to be tuned every day for at least the first month, so that it will to learn that it was no longer just a bundle of wood, but a harp, something that was meant to sing.…It is in this spirit that I have made my form into a human harp to be not only “an instrument tuned for praise” but an instrument tuned for peace.”


 Egyptian Hisham El Zeiny began drilling holes into the rigid torso and then added light to give a“more meditative, contemplative aura as 'light comes from within.'"



Fractured  Spring 

Lebanese-born Helen Zughaib, an Arab American living in Washington, D.C., created a statue for the CARAVAN exhibit but filled her solo exhibit at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery with her ongoing interpretations of the Arab spring. “In the early days of the Arab Spring,” she writes, ”there seemed to be an abundance of optimism, hope and potential for change in the Arab world….three years ago, in my first painting on the Arab Spring, I used the flower as motif. I have carried that flower throughout this exhibit as well, refusing to give up, though now a bit wilted, angry, questioning and bleached of color.”


Spring Flight shows birds seeking freedom but constrained by cages, or picture frames,

many carrying a drooping blossom.


Di/as/pora may be read right to left as people flee or left to right as people return.


Peace Puzzle – can you find the English and Arabic letters that spell “peace?”

It’s up to each of us to help put the puzzle together.


The widely exhibited and highly acclaimed Zughaib, whose art has been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believes the arts are one of the most important ways to help shape and foster dialogue and positive ideas about the Middle East.


Hits: 339

Ismail Serageldin is optimistic about Egypt’s future in large part because of his experience as director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, where the average age of the 2,400 employees is 30.  “We started with nothing and in less than eight years, these young people created an institution that is recognized among the great libraries of the world.”

The young people of Egypt stood up against the government and demanded change twice in the last three years – first against Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and then against Mohamed Morsi in 2013.  “The rebellion against Morsi was a fundamental rejection of the vision of an Islamic state,” says Dr. Serageldin, noting the important role played by women today and in the 1920s, when women openly removed their veils during an earlier demonstration in Tahrir Square.

b2ap3_thumbnail_All.jpgDr. Serageldin talked informally about the library and the state of the Egyptian revolution during a Celebration Garden Party on May 31, 2014, at the home of Ibrahim and Aida Mady, on the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. More than fifty people attended the celebration organized by the Friends of the BA – DC, MD, VA, part of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee.

“The cleavages in our society are profound,” continued Dr. Serageldin. “There are those who want a modern, progressive secular state not unlike Norway. There are those who do not want anyone from the military and those who want the military to be given a forceful hand. There is general disenchantment, especially among young people because nothing has been achieved yet.”



“No revolution completed its strategic agenda and transformed society within a few years,” Dr. Serageldin reminded the audience. In the United States, the war of independence itself lasted six years, followed by the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, the election of George Washington 13 years after the Declaration of Independence, with the Bill of Rights only ratified in 1791. 

“I keep telling my young colleagues that in Egypt we are not even four years old. We are still a toddler.”

The Road Ahead

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Serageldin.jpgDr. Serageldin outlined several key steps he believes are important on Egypt’s road ahead:


  1. “Blood has been spilled. There must be an accounting for the deaths from January 25, 2011, until now,” – perhaps even a “truth and reconciliation” commission as in South Africa. “The air must be cleared or the gap will continue to grow between young and old, male and male, Islamist and non.

  2. “The economy is a shambles,” but he is encouraged that newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said measures taken by the government today won’t have an effect on people’s lives for at least two years. “Finally someone is willing to say the truth,” says Dr. Serageldin. “We will get the engines of the economy running, but it will take time. And my belief is that people will respond favorably when you tell them the truth.”  Again, his optimism stems from seeing the dramatic changes in places like Singapore, Taiwan and China – changes that took a generation

  3. “If the Egyptian public has successfully stopped the seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of political Islam in our part of the world they have also resurrected the specter of the centralized security state with all its problems.”  Tackling terrorism is a profound problem in every society, because the public expects the government not just to punish terrorists but prevent terrorist acts.  “In the name of preventing terrorism, governments take actions that are not so constitutional, limiting free speech until you have McCarthyism,” or the World War II concentration camps for the Japanese in the United States.  “This is a slippery slope. We have to accept pluralism and a divergence of views. Democracy requires pluralism and pluralism requires differences of opinion.”

  4. Dr. Serageldin also urges an acceptance of a broad range of views in the media and among the public.  Acknowledging that media reports may often be biased, he pointed to the very different reaction in the west to the 2013 revolution in Egypt and the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, where the “uprising was recognized as a popular movement, not a coup. But wasn’t a popularly elected leader replaced by large scale action in Ukraine just as in Egypt?”  Dr. Serageldin said that the media have a responsibility to make a fair and honest assessment, but the government should tolerate a wide range of opinions – “the only way to insure that pluralism and democracy survive.”

“We are here to help the young people on the right path,” concluded Ismail Serageldin. “They are building their future and the future of the world and Egypt’s place in it. Egypt has given so much to the world so many times throughout the centuries. Egypt will come back and give again.”


The Celebrate Egypt Garden Party launched the expansion of the Friends of the BA to Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  If you would like to become a member and help support the Children’s Library and other projects at the BA, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request a membership application.  The May 31 celebration was catered by Cooking and Beyond, which specializes in Egyptian cuisine. Ana Masry USA Band offered a concert of song and verse representing Egypt’s diverse cultural heritage.




Hits: 475

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) in Baltimore and Hands Around the Library are sharing a burst of public attention this month at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which has a row of giant windows facing Cathedral Street in downtown Baltimore.  At the suggestion of Deborah Taylor, the librarian who coordinates school and student services at Enoch Pratt, the library’s art director Jack Young created this giant poster. 


When people scan the QR code in the lower corner, they are immediately transported to a page giving the full name of the library in Alexandria, Egypt – and the opportunity to contribute to our ongoing Virtual Book Drive The fundraiser is a partnership with the nonprofit literacy organization First Book and Washington-Baltimore Friends of the BA under the auspices of the Baltimore Luxor Alexandria Sister City Committees. We have raised $610 so far to purchase books for the Children’s Library at the BA from the First Book Global Marketplace but we want the total to be much bigger before our fund drive ends on April 27. Please join us with your donation and the opportunity to choose specific books from the BA wish list!

 If you are in Baltimore, your second stop after the library should be Kin+ Cargo: Exploring Baltimore’s Sister Cities, a public art exhibition in a PODS container at the Inner Harbor. Ashley Molese, a graduate student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, borrowed objects from residents of Baltimore’s Sister Cities to explore life in these port cities. Baltimore currently has active Sister City relationships with Rotterdam, Netherlands; Kawasaki, Japan; Xiamen, China; Piraeus, Greece; and Luxor and Alexandria, Egypt. The exhibit includes Japanese tea sets, a bottle scraper and bollard paperweight from Rotterdam, jump ropes, porcelain, tote bags and fabric.

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2065.JPG b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2058.JPG


Sister Cities are established to promote citizen diplomacy.  Started after a White House Conference in 1956, there are now 600 American cities with 2,000 partnerships in 136 countries As Ashley says, “Connections made official on paper, between city governments, have personally affected and touched individuals around the globe. Representatives on the Sister City Committees have made it heir life’s work to preserve and promote such ties.” Boy Scouts are exchanging visits this year between Baltimore and Kawasaki. The Rotterdam Committee regularly exchanges art and artists.

In the past, the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister City Committee has hosted student interns, librarians from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and tours to Egypt. Most recently, the Committee used a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide clean drinking water to Nagaa Village Gad Al Kareem near Luxor. Currently, the Committee is sponsoring the Virtual Book Drive for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Children’s Library.

Even in the small space of a PODS container, the Kin + Cargo exhibit offers a chair and settee so visitors can read anecdotes about the various objects or look at maps, meet other visitors and imagine the connections and similarities between their life and life in China, the Netherlands or Egypt.   Kin + Cargo will be open until April 21 in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, noon to 7 p.m. daily.

Find out more about the Friends of the BA in Baltimore – and now expanding to include the Washington, D.C., area – at baltimoreegypt.org.  If you’d like to know more about the Friends or even become a member, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sister City Committee Leaders/MembersAshley Molese + Tharwat Abouraya

Hits: 430

Today’s blog is excerpted from “Historic Hours and Tumultous Times: Reflections on the Third Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution,” by Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Complete essay here.


b2ap3_thumbnail_headshot.jpgTumultuous times, historic hours… greatness achieved, then lost, retrieved and lost again in the fog of uncertainty as the elusive dream of building our new republic on an inclusive society and a system of laws seems to be overtaken by an active war on terror…

Today, Egypt is at a difficult cross-roads.  It is affirming its right to build a democratic system where human rights shall be respected and protected.   But forces are pulling in different directions.  The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Jihadists seem determined to use violence and terror.  The machinery of the state is determined to stop them.  And the people, with a profound anger against the Brotherhood and their Jihadist allies, are calling for that machinery of state to crush them, to destroy them. But that same machinery will also unleash the forces of the autocratic state.  And there, our dreams of democracy and pluralism are themselves at risk. That is the price we pay for waging a “war on terror,” for wanting security at any cost, order by any means… we risk embarking on a slippery slope towards the autocratic state.

The regime and its opponents enter into that treacherous terrain at the risk of destroying that which they claim to protect and defend. Soon blood flows on both sides…The deadly machinery of repression starts taking hold.

Soon all opposition is suspect…Opposing views are censored. Discussion is derided as indecision and debate as obstruction. Dissent is derided then forbidden.

Listen to the Better Angels of our Nature

Remember the early days of the revolution.  Remember the grandeur and nobility of the peaceful demonstrations that stunned the world and brought to life dreams of better tomorrows.  It is now three years since we have launched our revolution.  Many young people have paid with their lives for the pursuit of their dreams, whatever these dreams were.  But the dead are still among us, not just in the grieving of those who loved them, but in the burden they pose to our memory.

In its hour of anger and loss, Egypt is turning to General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, who has just been given the title of Field Marshal, and who is leaving his post as head of the Armed Forces to become a candidate for the presidency under the newly approved constitution.  Barring some totally unforeseeable event, it is a foregone conclusion that he will sweep the polls in a landslide.  He will become Egypt’s next elected president. 

Will he indeed be the strong and visionary leader who will surround himself with ability and talent and meet these challenges and guide Egypt beyond the current crisis in our land?  I sincerely hope so.

Will he be the rare providential man, who will show the restraint of a George Washington, and allow a nation of laws to emerge, rather than succumb to the seduction of ambition and the corruption of power that the autocratic state and its repressive machinery can so skillfully nurture?  I sincerely hope so.

Will he be the leader who can end terror and then lead our national reconciliation?  I sincerely hope so.

Our youth, are the real guardians of the values of humanity.  They reinvigorate revolutionary fervor every generation and they dream new dreams suited to their times. They have shown their mettle in these three years of the Egyptian revolution.  

Whatever the future holds, I know that it is only by holding on to the values of human dignity for all, equality for all, liberty for all and creating the institutions of a republic of laws based on freedom and participation that the promise of the revolution will be redeemed, its dreams – at least partially – fulfilled.  And I know that it is the Egyptian youth of today and tomorrow who will make it happen.




Hits: 673

Periodically Hands Around the Library highlights efforts to make books more available to people in cities and villages all over the world who are hungry to learn and read. Today, our guest blogger is Chris Bradshaw, President and Founder of the African Library ProjectThe African Library Project (ALP) coordinates book drives in the United States and partners with African schools and villages to start small libraries. ALP has started over 1,000 libraries in Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Swaziland. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_logo3medium.pngI just returned from Sierra Leone, my first time back in 40 years since I was a student at Fourah Bay College in Freetown during my junior year abroad.  While some aspects of life in Sierra Leone have improved, I was shocked to see how much of it seems worse.  Even in the capital, running water and electricity are scarce resources. After 11 years of civil war, peace is a precious treasure now in Sierra Leone.  

Since over 1,200 schools were lost in the war, communities have taken the initiative to build or begin their own school, paying for the school’s construction and the teachers’ salaries. Hamilton Community School is one of these. It is a one-room school with about 90 students, ages 3-13 years old. The students sit at tables according to their ages. The school was originally just a preschool, but has begun expanding to primary school students.  

I visited Hamilton Community School just after they received their books from ALP. The students are totally digging them and are very appreciative of this gift from the Powers family of Ridgewood, New Jersey. The Powers family got their “power” from many people in their community, including Hawes School and Ridgewood Library. Therese Powers says, “Libraries are such very special places that bring the world to people and nourish minds and imaginations no matter what the situation.   I am so happy to be involved with ALP.”

Books are very expensive in African countries, but we encourage schools and communities to supplement the books we send with local language books. Our most valued books are fiction of the appropriate reading level; we send books with universal appeal or with specific relevance to Africa. ALP is recruiting book drive organizers now for the spring. Would you collect 1,000 gently used books and about $500 for shipping to start a library in Sierra Leone?


Hits: 598

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

 “We will not be out of turbulence for a little while.”
                            Ismail Serageldin, Director, Bibliotheca Alexandrina

 “We are trying to have a transformation through this turmoil.”
                           Fathy Abou Ayana, Chairman,
                           Egyptian Association for Friends of Bibliotheca Alexandrina

 Egyptians at the recent meeting of the International Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (IFBA) were eager to explain the current state of affairs in their country. The meeting itself was extraordinary – a Webex meeting which allowed almost two dozen participants from several countries to see and hear each other as we talked about the library and the country we all cherish.

Petition photo by Ahmed Ateyyaf for Egypt Pulse

b2ap3_thumbnail_PetitionsAgainstMorsiPhotobyAhmedAteyyaforEgyptPulse.jpgEgyptians are especially concerned about what they perceive as bias in Western media reports that continue to refer to the “coup” that forced Mohamed Morsi from the presidency in July.  Because millions of Egyptians had peacefully signed a petition seeking a new round of presidential elections and because that request was refused by Mr. Morsi, the military stepped in to fulfill the wishes of those millions and point the country in a new direction. Not a coup, they insist.

“The vast majority of Egyptians sided with the demand to remove Morsi,” explained Dr. Serageldin. “Twenty percent fervently supported him. There are those who want a country whose identity is linked to a particularly Islamic interpretation and those who want a pluralist outlook without inculcating Islam into the structure of the country.” The military stopped a headlong movement toward a more Islamic state without intending to concentrate power in the hands of a few military officers – the traditional outcome of a coup.

Dr. Serageldin remains optimistic about the future of Egypt, largely because of what he calls a “magical b2ap3_thumbnail_Women-protesters.jpgtransformation…If you had asked me the biggest problem in Egyptian society under former President Hosni Mubarak, I would have said the apathy of the Egyptian people. Now Egyptian society is totally engaged in a manner undreamed for 40 to 50 years: people of modest backgrounds to university professors and society ladies who would never have participated in a demonstration…This gives me great hope that there will be checks and balances and people will not go back to an authoritarian regime. The unwillingness of the people to be pushed around is a new reality. Any leader will have to cope with that.”  

Friends of the BA
Dr. Serageldin is proud that all sides have remained strong supporters of the library, including the many Friends organizations around the world. Shortly after the October meeting, he announced a major agreement with the Royal Tropical Institute of the Netherlands, Europe’s largest library pertaining to development issues.  The library’s collection of 400,000 books and 20,000 journals is being transferred to the BA, which will protect it and make it publicly accessible. 



Friends groups from different countries often support particular projects or sections at the BA.  The Swedish Friends collect books for the Nobel Library at the BA. They are also gathering a digital “UN Dag Hammarskjold Peace Mediator Archive” to be made available through the BA to peace researchers around the world. 

The Egyptian Friends organize public lectures, dinners and special events at the Library itself, including workshops for young people on poetry and digital design.

The Dutch Friends support the BA’s Taha Hussein Library for blind and visually impaired individuals.


The French are funding training for librarians who work with the BA’s large French collection. 

Mexican Friends are developing a “Casa de las Culturas del Mediterráneo, Africa y Medio Oriente” to foster cultural exchanges in Mexico City.  The Minnesota Friends frequently work with the NGO Books for Africa to ship containers of books to the Alexandria Library. The California Friends coordinated the donation of 1,000 origami peace cranes made by children in Sacramento to the children of Alexandria, Egypt.

The Friends of the BA in Baltimore is a subcommittee of the Baltimore-Alexandria Sister City Committee – we are working to revitalize the activities of this Friends group – watch this space for upcoming events and opportunities!

Congratulations to Friends groups around the world for their creativity, their generosity and their joy in keeping their hands around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina!

Hits: 750

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

I’m insane,” said April Kessler, after agreeing to participate in a 130-mile bike ride called Cycling for Libraries. “My bike has a layer of dust on it. I cycled three miles and almost died.” But April ramped up her training, rode to work on her bike, got a stationary bike at home and headed to Amsterdam with two American friends and librarians from 22 other countries.

April is a business librarian at the University of Texas. Karen Holt had just returned from Northwestern University’s campus in Qatar. Barbara Fullerton works for a library services contractor. They became friends through the Special Libraries Association in Texas.                                                          

                                                                                                    April Kessler, Karen Holt, Barbara Fullerton

b2ap3_thumbnail_AprilKarenBarbara.jpgA group of active library professionals from Finland started the cycling events with a ride from Copenhagen to Berlin in 2011 and a Baltic state tour in 2012.  From June 18 – 26, 2013, 120 librarians and friends cycled about 250 miles, visiting Amsterdam, The Hague, Delft, Gent and the European Parliament in Brussels.

Think the Netherlands offered a nice flat ride? Think windmills. “The wind was always coming toward us,” said April. “The wind was never behind us. We cycled across dikes by the ocean. Where do I get this kind of weather in Austin?”

The organizers call the event an “unconference,” marked by spontaneous discussions and brainstorming rather than PowerPoints® and lecture hall speeches.

 “It’s a different way of looking at your challenges. You get so many different perspectives,” says April.  She saw a library in Delft working with Microsoft to create a program that reads a patron’s address from a library card and pulls up pictures of the street from the library’s historical collection, creating a personal digital archive.  Usage of the digital collection skyrocketed.  April is working with the IT professionals in Austin to generate a similar response with digital journal collections at the University of Texas.

Karen Holt liked the use of cross-functional teams in Stockholm, where a digital project might include people from web design, cataloguing and public service. “I found a lot of ideas inspiring and it made me think about my own work differently.”

The cyclists talked to members of the Dutch parliament and offered a declaration about the importance of libraries to the European Union in Brussels. “People see all these bikes outside a library and say, ‘what’s going on?’ There is a lot of visible marketing. We want to make sure libraries remain a top priority,” said Barbara.

                                                                                                    Grande Place, Brussels, Belgium


April and Karen







Along with all the networking and advocacy comes a difficult bike ride. “You have to bike to the next destination, no matter what the weather. You learn a lot about yourself during this process,” says Karen.  A video team and a chef accompany the cyclists, who bike about 37 miles (60 km) a day. The fee is about $350 dollars (250 Euro) and covers most food, accommodations and programs.  

Unaccustomed to the large heavy bike she rented, Barbara hit the pavement wrong early in the trip, sending her back to Amsterdam for much of the trip.  But her spirits were not dampened. She intends to initiate a 25-mile Cycling for Libraries ride just before the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio next April. It’s open to anyone in the U.S. – interested riders should contact Barbara at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“I have friends working all over Europe and America,” said Karen. “It’s incredibly confidence-building. There is nothing like doing this in the wind and rain and then realizing I just did that with all these people who are now my friends.”

Next year, Cycling for Libraries rides from Barcelona, Spain, to Lyons, France.  Enjoy the videos and the comments from 2013 and contemplate signing up for 2014 at www.cyclingforlibraries.org or find the cyclists on Facebook


My two favorite things in life are books and bicycles.
They both move people forward without wasting anything.

Peter Golkin



Hits: 942

Hey, librarians! Hey, teachers! Hey, children's book creators including writers, illustrators, publishers! Hey, children's literature lovers! Listen!

Now that school is back in session, let’s not think just about reading but also about sharing our interest in fine children’s literature with each other. With the added ease of the Internet and Skype, and for some of us, the lazy-making ease of English being today's lingua franca, international communication - but indeed all communication - should be essential as well as possible for those with shared interests.

Our political world is so complicated these days. Our governments keep agendas of their own, often separate from those of the people they govern. Even the citizens of warring states usually do not share the angry politics of their rulers. The regular people of the world want nothing but peace. They want to feed and shelter their families. They want to educate their children. They want to work at what they love to do. They want friendship. Not much more.

One genuine friendship equals two impossible enemies! How can we help to multiply this equation?

If the individuals of our own small group of book lovers and educators each make the effort to reach across the mountains and seas we each will be doing something to help this important effort. Not only that, the links that we can all make can prove to be invaluable to us as individuals as well, both professionally and personally. Friends, social interactions, are essential for happiness. Friends with shared interests and understandings can be inspirational. Meaningful professional collaborations are among the finest joys of life.

It has been both a personal and professional delight to me to enjoy local as well as international personal connections through my work. I have nurtured and treasured these valuable relationships over the years. As described in several previous blog communications on this same site, recent links with Egyptian colleagues, provide living beautiful examples of how simple, genuine contacts can grow naturally and honestly into meaningful, creative, important friendships and collaborations.


Left: Susan meets Hyeok Oh, publisher of e-educational books that teach English to Korean children.

Right: Susan shares lunch with Metere Laustsen in Copenhagen. Marete works with schools and other organizations to promote multi-cultural children's literature. They are now working on a new project together. 




Shaymaa Saad, former children's librarian at Bibliotheca Alexandrina and consultant for Hands Around the Library

These and other, similar relationships can be deep, strong and lasting. They defy political agendas and flourish on their foundations based upon common intellectual pursuits, joint creativity, mutual respect and appreciation. For me, this is one of the happiest, most rewarding aspects of my professional and personal life as well.

Libraries and writing groups (like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators - SCBWI) are set up to help like-minded people reach out to each other, near and far. But with very little effort, thanks to libraries and the Internet, one also can make independent contacts. We suggest that you make the effort to do this---stretch out your hand to a potential colleague the next time you travel---even the next time you leave your house! It isn't mandatory to encircle the globe to make a new friend who shares your interest in children's literature, although that can be great fun---sometimes a new friend and potential colleague can be living right next door!

If you would like some help, advice or encouragement in this endeavor, send a note to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we'll give you easy directions for how you, too, can begin to make a new, meaningful connection...from around the corner or maybe even to the moon!



Hands Around the Library brought them together -  
Shaymaa Saad, Bibliotheca Alexandrina translator Dina el Mahdy, Hands supporter extraordinaire Tharwat Abouraya

Hits: 575

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

We are adding an extra blog for the holiday, by my Egyptian friend Aida Mady, who is eager to share Egyptian culture and cooking through her new business, Cooking and Beyond, based in Alexandria Virginia. Aida is a graduate of Empowered Women International's Entrepreneurship Program.

We are in the final week of Ramadan...



Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the most important month for Muslims, the majority religion in Egypt. In this month Allah (God) revealed the Qur'an to Prophet Mohammed. During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations, from dawn till sunset. It is the most holy month of the year, during which Muslims perform more prayers, read more Qur’an, give more sadaqah (voluntary charity), and worship more than any other time of the year.

For Egyptians, Ramadan is the year’s most special occasion. It is more like a month-long festival. Streets are decorated for the whole month and have continuous rush hours till very early in the morning.

The two main meals of the day are the iftar, in which the fast is broken at sunset. The second meal is the suhuur, which is usually delayed as much as possible till just before dawn. In between iftar and suhuur, Muslims could eat as they wish.

Before sunset, the entire country quiets down and gets busy with iftar. Dates are usually the first food to break the fast, according to tradition followed by Prophet Mohammed. You can find people minutes before the maghreb (sunset) prayer, walking the streets and handing out dates and water to those who haven’t made it home yet.

Although Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims, it is usually when Egyptians pay a lot of attention to food in variety and richness. That is because iftar is a family affair, often with entire extended families meeting at the table.

Traditional dishes are served, including traditional desserts, some almost exclusive to Ramadan. Those include baklawah (baklava), kunafah, basbousa, qatayef , and rice pudding.

Baklawah is a rich, sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo pastry brushed with butter, filled with chopped nuts, cut and sweetened with syrup, often flavored with vanilla, rose water or orange-blossom water. Its origins date back to the Ottoman Empire and possibly before that.

Kunafah is a sweet dish made up of thin strips of spaghetti-like pastry, syrup and cream. The pastry is heated with butter, then spread with cream, and topped with more pastry. Thick sugar syrup with a few drops of vanilla or orange-blossom water is poured on the pastry during the final minutes of cooking. Crushed green pistachios are sprinkled on top. Kunafah’s origins go back to Turkey.


Basbousa  is made with semolina, butter, sugar, yogurt and soaked in syrup.b2ap3_thumbnail_Basboosa.jpg
Qatayef is a dessert commonly served during Ramadan. Qatayef is the general name of the dessert as a whole, but more specifically, the batter. The result of the batter being poured onto a round hot plate appears similar to pancakes, except only one side is cooked, filled with cream or mixed nuts, raisins, and cinnamon. It is then deep-fried and served with syrup. Qatayef is of Fatimid origin.

Famous beverages related to Ramadan are kharruub (carob), dom (doum), karkadeh (hibiscus), tamr hindi (tamarind), qamar eldin (apricot juice), and khoshaf (not really a drink, but a compote of dried fruits and nuts).

The suhuur meal almost always consists of a dish of ful (fava beans) because they take long to digest and therefore keep one feeling full during the fast. The fava beans can be prepared with olive oil, corn oil, butter, fried or boiled eggs, tomato sauce, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and chickpeas.


Ful - made with fava beans

What makes this month different in Egypt?

A long time ago, Egyptians adopted certain social habits during Ramadan that are not directly related to religion. Here are a few:

Mawa’id al-Rahman

During Ramadan, people who are well-off offer charity banquets called mawa’id al-rahman which are basically rows of tables and chairs placed in the streets, sometimes under a tent, that cater full meals for free for the poor, passers-by, or workers who couldn't make it home on time for “iftar”. It represents another longstanding Ramadan tradition in Egypt. It is said that the tradition goes back to one of Egypt’s early Muslim rulers, Al-Layth Ibn Saad, known for his wealth and piety. According to another story, Ahmad Ibn-Tulun, Egypt’s 10th century ruler, began the tradition when he invited some VIPs to a banquet on the first day of Ramadan. When they arrived, however, they found that their host had also invited the city’s poor to eat with them. Ibn-Tulun was so pleased with the event that he repeated the practice every day for the remainder of the fasting month. During the 11th and 12th centuries, several of Egypt’s Fatimid rulers kept the tradition alive. Egypt’s first Fatimid ruler, Caliph Al-Moezz, for example, is said to have sponsored Ramadan banquets big enough to feed 100,000 people.


One of the most famous aspects of Ramadan is definitely the fanous (Ramadan lanterns). The traditional fanous is shaped from tin, wire rings and colored glass, and lit by a candle.

There are many different stories about how the fanous became a Ramadan tradition. One says that during the time of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah, women were only allowed to go outside their homes during Ramadan, and they were preceded by a little boy carrying a copper lantern so that men in the streets would move away. Years later, the lanterns continued to be popular and children would carry them in the streets every Ramadan. Another story says that the tradition originated when the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling, which was during Ramadan.

Since then, the fanous has always been an integral part of Ramadan in Egypt. They are used to light mosques and streets throughout Cairo, along with shopping malls, places of business, building entrances, restaurants, and people's homes. Fanous (plural fawanees) comes in all shapes and sizes and colors, with red being a favorite.


The mesaharaati is another Egyptian Ramadan tradition. This is the person who wakes people up to have their suhuur. He walks down the streets, banging on a small drum, singing or simply shouting, making sure everyone wakes up for suhuur. This profession no longer exists nowadays, except in the more rural areas of Egypt.


Another old Ramadan tradition is marking sunset with the firing of a cannon (madfaa’). The tradition is said to have begun in 1460, when Mamluk Sultan al-Zaher Seif al-Din Zenki Khashqodom received a cannon as a gift from a German acquaintance. Testing the cannon, the Sultan’s soldiers fired it at sunset exactly by coincidence. People believed that this was the Sultan’s way of alerting them that it’s time to break the fast. It was then suggested that the cannon be fired every day throughout the month to mark the beginning and end of the daily fast.

Another story says that it is actually Mohammad Ali – the 19th century founder of Egypt’s royal family who started this tradition. It says that the cannon used to be fired from Cairo’s famous Citadel – with live ammunition – until 1859. But when the city’s nearby areas became inhabited, they began using blank rounds instead.

Now that mosques are widespread across Cairo, the cannon firing is no longer needed to mark sunset and sunrise. The mosques’ azan (the call for prayers) both at sunset (al-maghreb) and dawn (al-fajr) could be heard all over Cairo. Also, now with modern technology you can simply hear the azan on radio, TV, or even your phone.

This joyful month ends with the greatest celebration of all, the festival of breaking of the fast Eid al-Fitr, which will happen about August 7 or 8, depending on when the first sliver of moon is seen in the night sky.

Find lots Egyptian culture and cooking at www.cookingandbeyond.com!


Research by: Rasha El-Gohary Egypt

Ramadan lanterns by Simon Phipp/Creative Commons



Hits: 1006

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina celebrated in Hands Around the Library is breathtaking and awe-inspiring, in both its architecture and its social reach. But there are other libraries and reading programs highlighted on our website whose accomplishments are just as dramatic despite much humbler surroundings. From multiple floors of globally-clinked computers to a single room of cherished books in a small village, people are determined to expand their opportunities to learn.

Ng’ombe Township Reading Center in Lusaka, Zambia, was established in 2006 through the efforts of several organizations and people in the USA who wanted to make a difference, including Jeannie Niebel, a retired elementary school teacher in Maryland, whose son was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in Zambia. Jeannie befriended Mary, nanny to her son’s children, and visited her in Zambia in 2004.

”Never had I seen such poverty. Most of the mud bricked homes had no electricity, running water or books. Many children were not in school because they had no money for school fees. Jobs were very scarce. At the same time I was inspired by the Zambians’ work ethic and their joy in the little things in life.”


Back in Maryland, Jeannie started an educational sponsorship program so that Americans could provide school fees for children in Ng’ombe Township.  She helped Mary open a reading center in the town, which now contains more than 2,000 books and is open to all who enter.  Students arrive at the center after school for tutoring. There are story hours for young children. Adults use this center as well.

Good Shepherd School opened its doors at the reading center in January of 2012, standing out from other schools in the area because of the number and quality of books available to students, many of them donated by American schools and families recruited by Jeannie.



It was a challenge for the school to send student thank you letters to sponsors overseas, according to headmaster Muchona Mangatila on the school’s Facebook page.  Mailed letters often did not arrive. Now the school has several donated computers, but “when we receive an email for a particular sponsored child, we have to carry the email on a flash disk and print it for the child at the University of Zambia about three kilometers away.”



The Good Shepherd Zambia Project recently attained NGO status due in large part to Muchona’s outstanding dedication and leadership. The project’s mission is to restore and cultivate a reading culture:

MISSION STATEMENT – To restore a reading culture and promote an establishment where all age groups shall acquire some level of education in Zambia. 
VISION – the vision is to try and alleviate the high levels of illiteracy through the provision of learning facilities and kits for the various learning age groups.

1. To cultivate a reading culture, this has been overshadowed with beer drinking and movies.
2. To provide quality learning facilities and materials to the under- privileged in our society.
3. To introduce to books as many children as possible regardless of their status and teach them the importance of reading.
4. Endeavor to promote gender balance
5. To bridge the gap between privileged and under-privileged by helping the under-privileged school going through sponsorship and otherwise. 


Sixty students attend the school, a third of them free of charge because their parents simply do not have the money for tuition.  Every month the school is short of money. But it is never short of pride.

Muchona narrated and filmed the video below about the village, the reading center and the school – all part of a complex that includes his home. You will see his wife, Leah, and see his infant son Andrew, named after Jeannie’s father. “It is traditional to ask someone else to name the baby,” explains Jeanne. “Muchona asked me to name the baby. What an honor!”

The school also formed a dance troupe to promote messages of safe motherhood, protection and treatment of HIV/AIDS and the importance of education for girls. “Usually cultural dances attract a lot of people and when we have a good number,” says Muchona, “the dancers would do a dance and then share the information we have for a particular day.”  Now Muchona is now seeking donations to open Internet Café: “We believe that information is power and the people of Ng’ombe deserve to be part of the global village.”

Video of Ng’ombe Township, Zambia, and the Good Shepherd School and Reading Center

The need is still great - financial donations to send books and school supplies to Zambia. Those who are interested in learning more about this project may contact Jeannie Niebel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Hits: 760

This blog shares the opinion of the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohamed Tawfik and the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance about the current events in Egypt. Please feel free to add your comments.


Letter from the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

As is evidenced by the actions of January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013, it is crystal clear that the Egyptian people want a better country, real democracy, genuine improvement of their economy, stronger democratic political institutions, better daily living conditions, a restored sense of security and most of all, hope in their future. Millions across Egypt recently came out to say that President Morsi and his government have failed miserably in providing any of the above.

To retake the reigns of their January 25th revolution and correct its course, the Egyptian people took to the streets again on June 30th in the largest demonstration the world has seen to date. Egyptians filled the streets throughout Egypt asking President Mohamed Morsi and his administration to step down. President Morsi did not comply with the people's demands, thus the Egyptian army facilitated a handover of power to save the country from collapsing into chaos and violence.

The military intervention in this case should not be categorized as a coup-d'état. In fact, it was a combined decision between political and religious forces in Egypt. The head of the constitutional court was immediately sworn in to be the interim president until early presidential elections are held. The Egyptian Army declared that it is not interested in playing a role in politics, but rather that it was acting according to its mandate of protecting Egyptian national security.

Mr. President, we at AESA believe the U.S. has a vital role to play in maintaining its credibility with the Egyptian people. We recommend the following five key steps:

1) Call for the start of a reconciliation dialogue among all Egyptians 

2) Support Egypt's transition to democracy by clearly supporting the transition roadmap announced on July 3rd by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's and civilian and religious leaders.

3) Publicly declare that the July 3 actions were not a coup. The Egyptian military, based on the request of the Egyptian people, acted swiftly to ensure the protection of internal sovereignty of Egypt and its citizens. As the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., Mohamed Tawfik, declared on July 3rd: this is not a coup; it is a popular uprising that was met with support by the Egyptian Army who are protecting the aspirations of the Egyptian people and their revolution.

4) Announce an economic assistance package to the caretaker government that shows the Egyptian people that the U.S. government supports the emerging Egyptian democracy. 

5) Hold the military and the caretaker government accountable for delivering on the Jan 25th revolution aspirations based on the promises they made in the July 3rd statement.

Mr. President, immediate action by the U.S. will help America protect our credibility with the Egyptian people and stem tensions and violence from spreading throughout Egypt. It will also help protect the vital strategic Egyptian-American relationship, which is in the best interest of U.S. national security.

Mr. President, on behalf of AESA, we humbly request that you support the Egyptian people and their strong desires today.

Kais Menoufy, President
American Egyptian Strategic Alliance 1100 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 1250
Washington D.C. 20036


Hits: 690

Zeinab Mansour, Mimi Hassanein and Amin Mahmoud, on behalf of the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance (AESA), the Woman’s National Democratic Club and the Egyptian-American Rule of Law Association (EARLA), hosted a panel discussion on the Status of Women in Egypt in Washington, D.C. The panel was moderated by Asiya Daud, professor of international relations and Middle East politics at American University. This report was originally written for the newsletter of the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance.


This weighty topic fully engaged a gathering at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.  Panelist Dalia Fahmy, assistant professor of political science at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY, is concerned that the Arab Spring may turn into the Arab Winter if women activists are treated as suspects trying to undermine democracy.


Fahmy and Sahar Aziz, associate professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, both noted that earlier laws on the status of women in Egypt unofficially bore the names of presidential wives: the Jihan Sadat laws granted women rights related to divorce and child custody; the Suzanne Mubarak laws reserved a minimum number of parliamentary seats for women and protected young girls from early marriage. All of these laws have now been repealed. Aziz fears that the politicians today may be manipulating hatred for the old regime to reduce women’s rights.

Aziz is concerned that the new constitution includes no anti-discrimination provisions specific to women and no floor of forbidden mistreatment of women. But she argued that women should focus on changing public opinion in Egypt rather than rewriting laws. “Laws are not enforced and can be manipulated,” she suggested, “Women’s rights must be part of the culture.”

One ray of hope is the Coptic OrphansValuable Girl Project. The organization’s communications director Hanan Baky said education is the best predictor of a woman’s degree of engagement in the community.  She cited a 2009 report that showed a 45 percent illiteracy rate among adult women in Egypt.  Since it started in 2002, the Valuable Girl Project has provided one-on-one mentoring for 4,000 girls in Egypt, pairing high school and college students as academic mentors to girls in elementary school.

In her overview of women’s rights, Kathryn Braeman, an administrative law judge and board member for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), noted that men and women had the same economic and legal rights in ancient Egypt. Now, she said progress toward women’s rights must be seen as a marathon, not a sprint, involving vision, risk-taking, passion, persistence, team-building, networking and advocacy.

Hits: 998

The present and future of Egypt may be a question mark, but the library of Alexandria – the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) – continues to be an exclamation point, alive with energy, innovation and surprise.


Photos from Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The most recent BA Board of Trustees meeting was hosted by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at the Ittihadiyya Palace in Cairo, where library director Ismail Serageldin reported that  “the President  expressed strong commitment to the values of pluralism and dialogue, and specifically endorsed the various centers of the BA suggesting that the Coptic Studies Program should become a full-fledged center of the BA joining the three new centers we have formed for the Environment, Islamic Culture, and Arabic Computational Linguistics.”

The new Coptic Studies Center aims to spread public awareness about this largely unknown era of history, and stress the fact that Coptic heritage is a heritage of all Egyptians. The Islamic Civilization Center focuses on the contributions of Muslim scientists, scholars, researchers and intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the Islamic heritage of that era. The Environmental Studies Center focuses on environmental research in the region in the context of climate change and rise of pollution rates.

The chairman of the Australian Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, Lorenzo Montesini, called President Morsi’s speech a “momentous validation of the BA in Egypt….This public endorsement has at last made this institution, its 2,500 workers and its worldwide circle of International Friends groups stand tall again in the light of the international sun….The BA will continue to be Egypt’s window onto the world and the world’s window onto Egypt.”

So What’s Happening Today at the BA?

The library calendar is rich with opportunities to learn and share ideas. A League for Young Masters aims to raise environmental awareness among young people 18 to 25 years old.  There are clubs for children in chess, robotics and astronomy as well as classes in hieroglyphics and ballet.  Adults may attend poetry readings, a lecture on “Alexander the Great and the Political Manipulation of Religion in the Hellenistic Period” or a reading of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew in Arabic. 

Many presentations at the library are available as webcasts. A Science Supercourse operated in partnership with the WHO Collaborating Center at the University of Pittsburgh provides online lectures and resources in public health, computer engineering, the environment and agriculture.

The Library celebrates Arab Deaf Week to expand inclusion of people with hearing impairments within society, while World Braille Day includes competitions with teams of sighted and blind children.

b2ap3_thumbnail_TahaHusseinBibAlex.jpgThe Taha Hussein Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired at the BA offers Braille training for sighted people as well as services for those who are blind, including the first Arabic Qur’an in DAISY format, which allows full audio and text viewing simultaneously. Taha Hussein, blinded at the age of three by faulty treatment of an infection, surmounted great obstacles to become one of the most influential 20th century Egyptian writers and intellectuals.


Photos of World Braille Day competitions by Tharwat Abouraya

Dr. Serageldin speaks worldwide about the library itself as well as his many other areas of interest and expertise – the knowledge revolution, ending hunger, sea level rise and water security, Arab culture, the future of the book and the making of social justice. In May, he spoke in Baku, Azerbaijan, at a conference organized by the Nizami Ganjavi International Center and the Club of Madrid, an organization of 80 former presidents and prime ministers from 56 countries dedicated to promoting democracy and change in the international community. In April, he addressed the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, a society of scholars founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, saying that he wanted the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to “recapture the spirit of the Ancient Library in 21st century terms.”


Illustration by
Robina MacIntyre Marshall in
The Library of Alexandria
by Kelly Trumble

Hits: 756

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

Libraries the world over need friends, now more than ever. Free, public libraries embody the ideal of equal opportunity, offering every adult and child the chance to learn, grow, dream and imagine. In our digital age, the access provided in public libraries is invaluable.

“More than ever, libraries are community hubs,” said Maureen Sullivan, president of the American Library Association, in State of America’s Libraries 2013, “and it is the librarian who works to maintain a safe harbor for teens, a point of contact for the elderly, and a place to nurture learning for all.”

David Vinjamuir wrote in Forbes January 16, 2013, that “more than half of young adults and senior citizens living in poverty in the United States use public libraries to access the internet to find work, apply to college, security government benefits and learn about critical medical treatments…for all this public libraries cost just $42 per citizen each year to maintain.”

The need to support local libraries can come at any moment – when there are proposals to close a branch, reduce a budget or eliminate a service.


Nationally, May 8 has been designated Virtual Library Legislative Day – an opportunity for all library advocates to make their voices heard on a national level. The American Library Association and United for Libraries are leading the way, with information on current issues and opportunities to Tweet your Senator or Representative.

There are state and local Friends groups supporting libraries all over the country. My own Friends of the Library in Montgomery County, MD, sponsors regular Literary Luncheons with current authors at the Mansion at Strathmore and lets members sport “I Love My Library” frames on their license plate.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina thrives because of friends too. In the beginning, Norway gave furniture for the reading halls. A university in Mexico donated CDs. Spain gave the new library a gift of valuable historical reports written in Arabic. Shanghai, China, donated books.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Alex-lib-outside-wall-SMALL.jpgAnd did you know there are more than three dozen International Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in countries all over the world, including chapters in California, Minnesota, Baltimore, Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey and New York? Many of these organizations have been around since the Alexandria Library opened in 2002 and continue to donate books, funds for scholarships, software and expertise.

b2ap3_thumbnail_MNFriends_20130505-225338_1.pngMinnesota Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, whose logo combines the Minnesota loon with the Egyptian lotus, is led by Egyptian scientist and inventor Aida Khalafalla. The Friends organization partners regularly with Books for Africa, an NGO dedicated to “ending the book famine in Africa,” in the belief that “literacy is quite simply the bridge from misery to hope.” Through Minnesota Friends, Books for Africa donates container shipments of books to the library in Alexandria – including one on its way to Egypt now.

Another particularly active chapter in California is led by Rosalie Amer, a former Fulbright librarian at the American University in Cairo and community college librarian and professor in California. She visited the Alexandrian construction site in 1994 and has been back almost every year since, often as a scribe for the International Friends association.

The Bibliotheca Alexandria website says “our friends raise more than money, they raise awareness of the library's value, raise their voices for peace, dialogue, and positive change, raise everyone's hope for a better tomorrow, and raise their hats for our success.” That is the mission of every friend of every library in the world. Won’t you be a library friend too?


Hits: 799

"All you need in life is truth and beauty and you can find both at the public library." Studs Terkel

On July 1, 1731, Ben Franklin and members of Junto, a philosophical debating association, formed a library. Each invested 40 shillings the first year and 10 more shillings each year thereafter to buy additional books. Their motto? “To support the common good is divine.”

American public libraries have been supporting the common good ever since. They are unique in the world in their breadth, their free access, their resources. There are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the U.S. – a total of 16,766 including branches. To those who thought libraries might fade in importance with the advent of the Internet, surprise! Almost 89 percent of public libraries now offer wireless Internet access: an unmatched equalizer of opportunity.

Librarians in the nation’s public and academic libraries answer nearly 6.6 million questions weekly. Standing single file, the line of questioners would span from Ocean City, MD to Juneau, AK.


“My mother and father were illiterate immigrants from Russia,” writes the actor Kirk Douglas. “When I was a child they were constantly amazed that I could go to a building and take a book on any subject. They couldn’t believe this access to knowledge we have here in America. They couldn’t believe it was free.”

Every Library, a PAC for libraries, is working to keep it that way by raising funds to support local library campaigns around the country.

David Rubenstein is also working for libraries and literacy. The co-founder of the Carlyle Group and major donor to the Library of Congress is contributing $1.5 million over five years to three new annual literacy awards. “The public library my parents urged me to investigate as a child turned into a limitless source of information and amazement,” said Rubenstein when he announced his new awards program in December 2012. “For me, it opened a door to the universe.”

Beginning in 2013, three prizes will be awarded annually:

• The David M. Rubenstein Prize ($150,000), for a groundbreaking contribution to the sustained advancement of literacy by any individual or entity worldwide

• The American Prize ($50,000), for a project developed and implemented during the past decade with special emphasis on combating aliteracy (being able to read but uninterested in doing so).

• The International Prize ($50,000), for the work of an individual, nation or nongovernmental organization working in a specific country or region

Applications are due April 30. Application details are here. The first winners will be announced at the second annual International Summit of the Book in Singapore in August.

On a much smaller scale – but just as important to maintaining the vigor of our public libraries – three $1,000 Baker & Taylor Awards are given annually to Friends groups or Library Foundations for outstanding efforts to support their libraries. Applications are due May 1. Details are available from United for Libraries, which is also funding Citizens-Save-Libraries grants to provide training in local library advocacy.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Alex-lib-outside-wall-SMALL.jpgA pinnacle of library advocacy is celebrated in Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, which prompted this Internet comment during the Egyptian protests of 2011: “The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is more than a modern repository for books. It is a phoenix rising from its own ashes, an historical monument to timeless wisdom in the face of armed conflict and religious fanaticism. It has been destroyed four times in history, and many of its priceless manuscripts lost forever; yet it stands again in our time, a monument not only to what we are, but to what we can be. Bravo.”

What makes you say “bravo” about your own public library? Please share your comments here. Celebrate National Library Week with us!

Hits: 789

This blog addresses an interesting aspect of Egyptian political life since the 2011 revolution - the perception of overseas Egyptians by Egyptians at home.  The article was  written by Dr. Maha Ebeid in Arabic for the Egyptian magazine,  7 Days, on March 5, 2013. It was translated and updated by Tharwat Abouraya. The lines of poetry at the end were translated by Dina Elmahdy. 

"Why did you come? Came to gloat at your country, your people and your homeland? Put your hands in cold water... do something to help your country instead of betraying it and looking for another!" Thus began my tongue-lashing without interruption. I gestured at him in anger but he returned it with a smile and said, "God bless you and good to see you too; I will tell you about the people who put their hands in cold water and then judge for yourself.” So I calmed down in shame from this uncivilized conversation… and I listened...

He’s Tharwat Abouraya, a friend of many years. He graduated from the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University, Department of Geography, 1974, and ended up like many youth trying to find a job in Alexandria, near his family, but fate took him to Cairo to work with one of the tour operators. However, he decided to emigrate to America where he married Karen Leggett, who is an American, after a wonderful love story. She is a successful woman, works as a broadcaster in Voice of America, and formerly ABC Radio in Washington, D.C., now a journalist and author of children's books, including a book about Egypt, which is available in the Alexandria Library and American University book stores - Hands Around The Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books. (www.handsaroundthelibrary.com)

Tharwat is the father of Nadia, Assistant Stage Manager, ArtStream Theatre, and Adam, who works as a web developer with the famous Apple, Inc., in Cupertino, California. Tharwat polished his credentials in addition to his experience, and became an expert and Certified Travel Industry Executive in the development of global travel and tourism. This is what brings him to Egypt, every year accepting a courtesy call to the International Organization of the eTourism Industry, IOETI, which held its Fifth World Conference in Cairo December 18 to 19, 2012. He delivered a seminar on the future of e-marketing, and also a workshop on tourism marketing, which included e-tourism and dealing with the press in time of political instability.

I sat with Tharwat Abouraya to learn what the overseas Egyptians do for Egypt, and perhaps this would erase the horror of what I said to him in the beginning, and he said,

“In early 2012 we established a coalition of American - Egyptians to help Egypt, called the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance (AESA)*, based in Washington, DC. It is a non-governmental alliance of individuals including the chairman, Kais Menoufi, who took it upon himself to set establish the lobby with his personal resources. I (Tharwat) am considered among the founding members. I learned about it by chance in one of the gatherings at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC, through a friend, Dr. Amin Mahmoud, and since this time, I try to donate my time and my experience. There is also another important founding member of the Alliance, Dr. Ibrahim Oweis, who is a retired professor of political science at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where he taught for 42 years. All members who created this coalition are American-Egyptians who love their country so seriously and some are American nationals who are relatives of the American-Egyptians.

“There are about 25 other Egyptian/American organizations in the United States, but all of them do not hold a government permit which gives them the right to exercise political pressure (lobbying), so mostly they raise money or send clothes to needy Egyptians or work in the field of education, such as scholarships for Egyptian students to come to the USA. AESA is considered the first legal lobby in the United States of America that cares about the relationship between American economic interests, as well as the political and strategic policies that impact the USA and Egypt.

“The established Alliance goal is to enable AESA to make American decision-makers aware of the common interests between America and Egypt, which will in turn benefit Egypt at the end. The Alliance supports decisions which lead to mutual prosperity, contributing to our positive relations and common interests.

“There is a long-time Jewish lobby in the USA AIPAC - The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee** - which enjoys the same lobbying rights, and over the years it has become a political force to be reckoned with. As I mentioned, we have started to publicize the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance in early 2012, meaning that within such a short period we cannot yet have the same influence.

“Recently, we have made contacts with more than one member of Congress to persuade them to reverse an effort by Congresswoman Kay Granger in the House of Representatives, chair of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, to withhold Egypt's share of foreign aid - which amounts to $450 million! We followed a standard format to highlight the topic and its importance, and we have used telephone conversation talking points, faxes and emails, all with a unified message, to inform officials of the importance of reversing this plan to withhold financial assistance earmarked for Egypt.

“Also, Randa Fahmy Hadoma, Chief Legal Officer and Political Advisor for AESA, succeeded in appearing on many TV political shows and programs and having a great impact on the activities of the Alliance and its mission.

“The Alliance is still considered new and our short term goals are to increase the awareness of AESA and expand the number of active participants and members, increase the budget with financial donations, and expand the experiences and competencies of members of the Board of Directors of the Alliance.

“Our long term goals are for projects that would serve the Egyptian society, which is in need of immediate assistance, without the complications and bureaucracy of government-controlled decisions. I took a day trip to Cairo accompanied by my associate Heidi Abbass, Chief Operating Officer of the Alliance, to visit such successful independent projects, i.e. Nebny in Manshiet Nasser), and Renaissance Mahrousa -throughout Egypt).”

Before I comment on Tharwat’s conversation, I must say he objected to my beginning with a laugh, " O Maha, we love Egypt above what you could imagine, and no matter how far away we are and how we long we live abroad, we cannot forget our country. We see it in everything, and we live it in everything: even in our children names. Our loyalty to Egypt is very strong. Don’t doubt that we love Egypt!”

Of course that increased my embarrassment. I jumped to shake his hand firmly, apologizing and thanking him for explaining and making it clear to me that there are on the other side, Egyptians who still have vibrant love for Egypt. Tharwat Abouraya – Gulab Al Kahir – a rain maker. He left, but the verses I read some time ago by a person called Hussein did not leave me:

“Oh, Egypt, you dwell in my heart ... My beloved competes with my love for you.
I see you when she crosses my mind ... I see her once I see you”


*As a 501(c)(4) organization, AESA strives to assist American decision makers in defining and shaping U.S. policies towards Egypt, and encourages Egypt to further the creation and protection of a civil society based on the universal values of human dignity, democratic process, freedom of speech and individual rights.

**There is a growing diversity of opinion among the American Jewish population, including a highly publicized “AIPAC doesn’t speak for me” campaign by the Jewish Voice for Peace

Hits: 841

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

This has been a special week for Hands Around the Library. We have been honored with two awards –

2013 Notable Books for Global Studies by the International Reading Association (Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group)

2013 Best Books for Young Children by the Children’s Africana Book Award Committee

b2ap3_thumbnail_GlobalSociety.pngThe criteria for the Global Studies list highlight many of the messages we strive to share in this story of protestors joining together to protect their library: honoring and celebrating diversity as well as the common bonds of humanity and thought-provoking content that invites reflection, critical analysis, and response. Hands Around the Library has indeed been the springboard for discussions with children and adults about civic engagement, the importance of voting and fair elections, the value of peaceful protest and even using picture books to explain current events.



The Africana Book Awards “show that Africa is indeed a varied and multifaceted continent. CABA titles expand and enrich our perspectives of Africa beyond the stereotypical, ahistorical and exotic images that are emphasized in the West.” We are proud to be included in this group.

During a recent school presentation about Hands Around the Library in Silver Spring, Maryland, a father from Uganda expressed his appreciation for a positive story about Africa. One of my personal joys when sharing this story is the opportunity to show that Egypt is so much more than pyramids and mummies – fascinating as they are! I have been similarly pleased to see the book’s relevance beyond Egypt and even Africa. At the National Children’s Museum outside Washington, D.C. recently, a father from Albania was eager to share the book with his son because he could relate it to stories of his own country’s struggles.


It was also quite exciting for us to see Hands Around the Library highlighted at the Library of Congress when Alexandria Library Director Ismail Serageldin spoke on the “Loss and Rebirth of the Library of Alexandria” on March 8. An earlier version of Dr. Serageldin’s presentation is available on his website. He now includes Hands Around the Library in that presentation.

b2ap3_thumbnail_billington_hands_around_the-_library-2.jpgLibrarian of Congress James Billington showed several pages of the book with the audience noting that Dr. Serageldin “joined hands with the young people, explaining to them that the library isn’t something they can have as a target. Here he is again, joining hands and there is a remarkable thing. This building was surrounded by young people joining hands who were part of that whole event. It was an amazing phenomenon.”  See video.

Dr. Billington, by the way, is only the 13th Librarian of Congress since the Library was established in 1800. He and Dr. Serageldin have a long history of collaboration, most recently on the World Digital Library, a cooperative project of the Library of Congress, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and partner libraries. The Bibliotheca Alexandria is a key partner and contributor of digitized content, and Dr. Serageldin now chairs the Executive Council of the WDL. The World Digital Library brings together on a single website rare and unique documents – books, journals, manuscripts, maps, prints and photographs, films, and sound recordings – that tell the story of the world’s cultures. The site is intended for general users, students, teachers and scholars. The website is available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The actual documents on the site are presented in their original languages.



Ismail Serageldinb2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_6054-2.jpg

We wish you a productive and enjoyable week -
and please check out our spring schedule of events so we can meet you!


Video by Tharwat Abouraya



Hits: 836

Guest blogger Tharwat Abouraya is my Egyptian-born husband, now with dual citizenship. He recently returned from a visit to Egypt. In Alexandria, he worked with many good people at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to expand the distribution of Hands Around the Library and follow the progress of the Library's Arabic translation of Hands. In Cairo, he met with Lisa Anderson, President of the American University of Cairo, who is also helping to make Hands more widely available in Egypt. Tharwat's handwriting is on all the Arabic protest signs in our book - and now he has some protests and comments of his own.

Egyptians succeeded to topple Mubarak on January 25, 2011, because they were united Egyptians inclusive of all religions and social classes and they had a single goal. To bring Egypt to harmony again, Egyptians must focus on their shared singular goal of living together despite their differences to realize a better life now and in the future.

There is a disconnect between the current regime and the people’s demands. The rulers’ lack of awareness of the Main Street in Egypt is the core of the uprising: too many people fear being hungry. Democracy cannot thrive in a land of empty stomachs.  In addition, some are finding that their own interpretation of the Quran does not match with that of the Islamists governing Egypt, especially with regard to violence and discrimination against their own people as well as people of other faiths.  

Protest march in Alexandria, Egypt, in January 2013

Beyond physical needs, Egypt needs political stability, security and employment. There must be support for the private sector and an end to corruption. Egypt must be able to take advantage once again of its unique, God-given and created resources:

  • Mediterranean & Red Sea beaches,
  • energy from the sun,
  • the Nile River, second longest in the world, and
  • the world’s largest and first open air museum


What's different two years after the revolution? The 25 Jan 2011 Revolution lit a fire under American-Egyptians to start their first ever political lobbying organization in the U.S. – the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance, AESA. Within Egypt, more young adults and youth are becoming engaged in political discussions and following the political news.  More Egyptians vote in local and national elections, including many first time voters. Noticeably more young adults and youth are volunteering in home grown community projects, like the Nebny Foundation and Nahdet Al Mahrosha.  

More is needed. 

Egyptian students in schools and universities must learn to debate, communicate and influence others.  Volunteer opportunities should provide young people with new skills and alleviate some of Egypt’s immediate problems – improving trash collection and continuing to protect tourist sites, libraries and cultural organizations: just as they did during the revolution itself at the Cairo Museum and the Alexandria Library. 

Tharwat Abouraya and AUC President Lisa Anderson, in her Cairo office

Hits: 1071