April 29, 2013

Tripoli book fair sells previously banned books


A book fair in Libya last week was so popular that many stalls ran out of books.

Last week, Tripoli hosted the city’s largest ever secondhand book sale, offering books that had previously been forbidden during Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Held in Martyrs Square, book stands with academic books, books of poetry, and novels, as well as Western books offered a range of choices to the bustling crowds amid a backdrop of live music.

The fair was organized by about 60 volunteers from civil society organizations, and 7,000 of the books were donations. “There is a saying ‘When you buy books, you buy happiness'” Suleiman Mansour, a volunteer organizer of the book fair told Reuters. “Right now, my happiness is indescribable as I look at all the people buying books.”

Jazea Omar, another volunteer, spoke to the Libya Herald.

“We have to share our books so we can spread knowledge,” Omar said, “and lots of the books for sale here are from other countries and cultures. Knowledge of these is important for us.”

She added that the project was mainly the work of young volunteers involved with the Tanweer (‘Enlightenment’) Movement which, in partnership with the Libyan Libraries Consortium, organised the event.

“We want to know what people think about this first festival,” she said, “so we can make our next one even more successful.”

Funds from the three-day fair will go towards building a mobile library that will visit schools.

The range of books available at the book fair contributed to the popularity of the event. Western books sold out on the first day, and some attendees were annoyed to see publications from Gaddafi’s regime. Previously banned books were also available.

Under Gaddafi, Western books were banned under certain periods—while those depicting heroes of the resistance movement against Italian colonialism and independence later were not given the attention they deserved, Libyans say. Books about King Idris, who Gaddafi ousted in his 1969 coup, were also not available, and any mention of him was usually negative. Instead Gaddafi’s Green Book of political ramblings was everywhere.

“There is such a great variety of topics here; many of the topics were off limits before because they were against the regime’s ideologies,” state employee Salem Ayayd said.

“Only later you could find such things on the Internet but that was not accessible to all.”

According to reports, the most popular book sold on the first day was the Harry Potter series.

Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.