Librarian in Pursuit of Arabic Resources for Young Adults The Riyadh Book Fair 2011 Mary Alice Osborne May 2011 IST 635 Professor Rebecca Schaffer-Mannion Syracuse University
I have been a school library media specialist for 14 years, first in Vermont, USAand then overseas in Tunisia and China. After two years in China I had several job offersincluding one from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, then beingbuilt on the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. I accepted the offer and over the past two years Ihave had some very unusual collection development experiences. When I first thought about living in Saudi Arabia, I had real concerns about whatit would be like to work in a country where covered women, human rights abuses, andlack of freedom of speech and academic freedom were normal occurrences. I wonderedif there would be restrictions on what could be ordered for the library and whethermaterials would be censored. Before taking the job I was reassured that I would be ableto order books with complete freedom. I spent several months before traveling to Saudiresearching and ordering the initial collection for the three libraries, K-12. Budget was“not a problem.” Philosophically, I wanted books and resources from many differentpoints of view to be available for our students to read and debate to support theinquiry-based curriculum. I ordered many different types and genres of books includingthose on different religions and even the popular novel Girls of Riyadh, both banned inSaudi Arabia. That fall, we received 52 pallets of books from the United States and nonehad been opened. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is an exception tothe commonly held assumptions about Saudi Arabia. KAUST is a remarkable newproject developed from the vision of King Abdullah to build a world-class graduateschool that would attract some of the most talented and prestigious professors andstudents from all over the world. Faculty has come from universities and researchfacilities such as Harvard, MIT, Wood’s Hole, Stamford and Cambridge to help create awestern-based educational facility and a global scientific center rivaling those in the
United States, Europe and Asia. It is hoped that KAUST will make Saudi Arabiacompetitive at a research and academic level far after their oil runs out.Even moreambitious and radical is the fact that KAUST is a co-ed campus, the first in Saudi Arabia.Women are not required to wear full-length black abayas, as they are in the rest of thecountry. Women can drive on campus and are treated as educational equals and taughtin the same classrooms with men. But, the university is very controversial. Conservativereligious leaders here disagree with men and women mixing. "Mixing is a great sin and agreat evil," Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri was quoted as saying in the al-Watan newspaper."When men mix with women, their hearts burn, and they will be diverted from theirmain goal," which he said is "education." (Raghaven, 2009) The project sounded sophenomenal, I had to come. KAUST was a brand new school, and it was very important to study thepopulation demographics and the student and staff needs when deciding what booksand resources to order for our collection. Before I came to KAUST, I had made my besteffort, from a distance, with limited information about the future student demographics,to acquire an appropriate opening day collection. Over the first year of operationhowever, it became clear that the library collection was lacking resources for thestudents who were not native English speakers. According to Muchinsky (2007), thelibrary media specialist is significant in their role in helping English Language Learners(ELL) adapt and succeed in school (p. 29). There are many strategies that can be used by thelibrarian to make the Library Media Center’s collection meet the needs of the ELL studentpopulation so they can soon become an integral part of their school community. Most staff at the KAUST School would say that the major challenge in starting thenew school has been the lack of resources for working with the high percentage of ELLstudents. As an example, teachers have had to use children’s easy reader books from the
Elementary School Library Media Center to teach high school students to read Englishbecause our school lacked appropriate resources. Muchisky, (2007) makes the following suggestions for additions to the librarycollection for the ELL population: • Multicultural picture books: have broad accessibility across grade levels and age ranges. • Big Books with shared visual and print features • Books on Tape, CD, MP3, etc.: help ELL students track auditory messages with written ones • Videos and DVDs, with closed captions • Bilingual Books • First language materials: encourage students to maintain and improve their mothertongue language skills • Fairy and Folktales: traditional stories that cross cultural boundaries • Easy Readers: high interest with low vocabulary, and simple style • Weeding of outdated or culturally inappropriate books (p.30).I have recently ordered many different ELL-friendly books from the above list, such as hi-low readers, graphic novels and audio books. However, I had been having trouble findingquality resources in student’s mother tongue languages. I wanted to find books that reflectedthe student’s home cultures, not just translated English books like the Harry Potter series orTwilight series, which I was able to get through Follett in the United States. Mother Tongue books are especially important to help students retain theirlinguistic and cultural heritage and maintain a link to their home countries. Researchshows that learning one’s mother tongue provides a scaffold for learning anotherlanguage such as English. It is very important for the school library media center toprovide these resources for students and teachers. There are many advantages to providing materials in student’s mother tonguelanguages in an English-instruction school. According to Goldberg (2008), if bothEnglish and the mother tongue are valued and nurtured in a quality environment(additive bilingualism), students are more likely to establish a strong foundation on
which they can build their second language proficiency. On the other hand, if the mothertongue is held in low esteem and is sacrificed (subtractive bilingualism) it is likely thatstudents will suffer academic and second language acquisition delays. It has been asserted that learning in the mother tongue may delay the acquisitionof English. However, Hamayan & Freeman, (2006) have found that students continuingto learn their mother tongue (alongside English) show some delay in earlier stages ofsecond language development. Research has shown that the delay disappears in thelong run. Students who continue to learn through their mother tongue are more likely toeventually reach a high level of proficiency in English than those whose mother tonguewas suppressed. Mother tongue learning can act as a scaffold rather than a barrier to learningEnglish. (Escamilla, in press) The home language is the “something familiar” thatstudents can use in order to learn the “something new” (Cloud, Genesee & Hamayan,2009). Much of what is learned in the mother tongue transfers to the second language,including: word recognition skills, vocabulary knowledge for words that are cognates,spelling knowledge, reading comprehension, even when the languages have differentalphabets and writing skills (August, 2006) Unfortunately, the vast majority of English Language Learners are in schoolprograms where English is the only medium of instruction and students are not learningto read and write in their mother tongues. Even in these cases, the native languageplays a critical role in the student’s life and academic career. Too often English mediumprograms think that they must ban the use of students’ native languages in order toaccelerate the acquisition of English. It is important for educators to know that there isNO research to support this. In fact, the research indicates that banning the use of astudent’s native language in school may be counter productive to learning English
(Goldenberg, 2008). There were many sound reasons to actively pursue acquiringArabic Language materials for the library at my school as soon as possible. I was able to enlist the help of a veteran teacher of Arabic, Ranah Nazzal, whohad been involved with purchasing Arabic books for the Queen Rania School and theBaccalaureate School in Amman, Jordan where she had worked before coming to KAUST. Iespecially needed Ranah’s help because I do not read or speak Arabic. Ranah advised methat finding Arabic language books was “a matter of building your own research base ofcontact and knowing the publishers and keeping in touch with them for updates on the newbooks being published each year.” (interview, 2011) There were several problems with finding quality Arabic language books inSaudi Arabia. Reading for pleasure has not been a tradition here. Saudi Arabia isgoverned by extremely conservative Islamic Sharia Law which has controlled andprevented the printing and selling of any books except religious texts until veryrecently. Ranah said that the publishing situation in the Middle East has improveddramatically.“We are very lucky in the last 10 years with what is going on with theArabic publishers. It was always very hard to find materials in Arabic before that.” TheInternet has helped to publicize and introduce bookstores, organizations and individuals tothe publishers’ books. In the past, most publishers in Arab countries mainly producedIslamic books about the Koran, the Prophet Mohammed, and his life. People were interestedin these subjects and would buy the books. Now people are more exposed to the worldthrough the Internet and they want to have access to more information and books. (Interview 2011) “There is widespread awareness both inside and outside the Arab world that reform is necessary to further human development in the region. 1 One critical component of reform is the building of a knowledge society that supports and values the production, diffusion, and application of new knowledge and the expression of new ideas. A key aspect of a knowledge society is a well-educated
citizenry open to new ideas, motivated and capable of challenging the ideas of others, and able to create important local knowledge.” (Zellman, 2011) Arabic books are commonly published more freely in Egypt or Lebanon than inSaudi Arabia, but many are poorly printed and bound and lack colorful artistic coversand illustrations that would make them appealing to young people.(Zellman, 2011)Unfortunately the book fair in Egypt this year was cancelled due to the politicaluprisings there in February. We decided to attend the annual book fair of Arabic language materials and books in the conservative capital of Saudi Arabia,At the fair, there were some familiar sights: here I am posingin front of the Scholastic booth! Scholastic offers My ArabicLibrary sets of paperback books for schools in grade levelsets The book fair was held in a huge and modern conventionRiyadh. From a collection development center, but almost every woman was totally covered in conservative black abayas and face covering niqaab. To me, the effect was claustrophobic and controllingperspective, attending the Riyadh Book Fairto purchase children and young adults’ Arabic language books for my library was one ofthe highlights of my career. On March 8th, we flew to Riyadh to attend the week long fair,knowing that the fair was highly restrictive and possibly even dangerous.
I was worried because of the recent uprisings around the Middle East in Tunisia,Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, and a Saudi Arabian “Day of Rage” that had been calledfor Friday March 10th - right in the middle of the fair! To add to this, each year the RiyadhBook Fair has taken place there have been controversial protests against freedom ofspeech where books were pulled off the shelf by religious conservatives. This led to anofficial pronouncement this year by the Ministry of Culture that no books would beremoved without written approval from the Ministry. (Hawari, 2011) Two days beforewe arrived, there was an incident at the fair in which women authors who werediscussing and signing their books, were harassed and prevented from speaking bygroups of religious conservatives.(Khan, 2011) This photo is taken from Arab News, Mar. 2, 2011. Clashes have occurred each year at the Riyadh Book Fair between the religious conservatives and the government, which is trying to promote reform. This year, the Saudi Minister of Culture was informed that “He was going to Hell.”
At the fair, Ranah advised me to cover my head to avoid being noticed too much. I stayed with Ranah most of the time while we explored the convention center, stopping at different vendors to look for high quality young adult fiction and Arabic classics. Every once in a while I would hear the sharp comment: “Woman cover your face!” directed at me by men with scruffy long beards, and short robes which exposed their ankles. These men are called the Mutaween. Mutaween literally means "volunteers" and is commonly used as a term for Islamic government-authorized or recognized religious police. Ranah had recommended the publisher Dar Al Muna, of Stockholm Sweden. Dar Al-Muna is an Arabic Publisher of children’s books. We met owner Mona Henning who was the only woman at the fair who refused to coverMona Henning, owner of Dar Al-Muna Publishing Co. her head. She was born in Amman, Jordanfrom Stockholm, Sweden posing with an Arabic versionof the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are by and founded the publishing house in 1984.Maurice Sendak. Most of the books are written by world- famous Scandinavian authors, such as: Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking, and Sven Nordqvist. She wanted to make sure that the culture of this “small country” was represented and available to Arabic readers instead of the standard, English, German and French titles. (Dar Al-Muna website, 2011)
Dar Al-Muna books are known for their attractive and artistic style andmeaningful human content. So far, she has published more than 100 titles. Henning’smission is to enhance reading promotion in the Arab world by publishing books in theArab people’s mother tongue. Henning says “knowing your mother tongue is always atreasure.” Henning is now working on publishing adult literature by authors such asTove Jansson from Finland and Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell.(Dar Al-Munawebsite, 2011) One of the biggest differences at the fair between similar events I have attendedin the west is the constant mixture of “church and state.” Religion is woven into anyshopping experience, with the five daily prayers taking precedent over everything else.Shops close and everything comes to a standstill during prayer time. I came around a corner to an unusual site: prayer time at the book fair
“My experience at the Riyadh book fair was very interesting. At the book exhibition this year they changedtheir policy about allowing some books to be at the fair. For me it was exciting to see the novels of NaguibMahfouz, and some political books. The works of these authors are being allowed here in Saudi Arabia for thefirst time.” Ranah Nazzal (interview, 2011)(Left) A woman wearing the burqa at the book fair. I wanted to capture this image because I find a person without aface so chilling.(Right) Our stacks of high quality Arabic books ready to be packed up at Dar Al-Muna
Leaving the fair after an exhausting but fruitful day browsing and purchasing books, you can see white, thobe-cladmen pouring out of the hall at closing time. Students enjoying the new Arabic books that Ranahand I purchased at the Riyadh Book Fair. I created a special section for Arabic books, apart from theIslamic Studies area we already had which contains religious texts in Arabic. The new section includesfiction and nonfiction from Dar Al-Muna, Scholastic and classic Arabic literature from Lebanese publisherDar al Saqi and others.
We returned to KAUST from the book fair with hundreds of great works ofArabic literature for our school. Many of the translated works were easy to find andcatalog using Z59 sources through our Follett Destiny software. But I am still workingwith Arabic teachers to translate many of the titles and information about the Arabicclassics we purchased into recognizable English so they can be cataloged. I have set up aspecial area in the library media center for the Arabic books and it has beenenthusiastically received by students and staff. I had an incredibly interesting experience at the Riyadh Book Fair and I feel thatit was very fruitful due our success in finding and purchasing resources for our schoolas well as developing relationships with publishers. It was wonderful visiting Ranah’sfamily in Riyadh, and experiencing their incredibly warm and welcoming Middle Easthospitality. In the future, to create a truly effective mother tongue collection at the KAUSTSchool, an Arabic speaking library media specialist will need to be hired and equalfunding should be allocated for building the Arabic collection. The two collectionsshould be developed in tandem with each other. But Ranah and I did make a start and Iam very happy that I was able to be part of making mother tongue language books andresources more of a priority at my school. Ranah with her Aunt and Nieces in Riyadh.
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