Aden’s Century-Old Library Shines with a New Purpose

Mohammed Ali Mahroos
“A book is the best possible companion,” wrote the Iraqi poet al-Mutanabbi over 1,000 years ago. He probably couldn’t have imagined a world where people think otherwise. But social media habits among younger generations suggest books are rarely read these days. The staff at a children’s library in Aden wants to change that.
Children at a makeshift playground in Yemen, 2013. © Rod Waddington

The scent of paper and printer’s ink fills the air at the Miswat Children’s Library, whose tidy shelves, tables and reading lights offer a pleasant setting for children from all walks of life to enjoy an abundance of books.  

Situated in Aden’s Crater District, it’s the oldest library in the Arabian Peninsula, dating back over a century to the British occupation. Known then as Lake Library, it had served both soldiers and the general public. In 2001, the name was changed to the Library of Aden’s Children to focus on young people’s culture and advance their reading skills. 

In 2005, the institution was renamed once more to honour the journalist and educator Mohammed Saeed Miswat, who founded an Aden cultural club for youth in 1947.


Inclusion is Key

Besides children’s books and magazines, the library’s reading section provides a learning space for workshops in computer skills and an event space for theatrical performances, painting, religious chanting, and puppet games.

 “We want to restore the spirit of reading through activities that change the lifestyle of our youth and unleash their creative energy,” said Wafaa Ghaleb, the library’s director.  

We want to restore the spirit of reading.

Almost 300 children have already obtained free membership cards. The library is also open to non-members on designated days, welcoming pupils on field trips and catering to marginalised and displaced children, as well as those with special needs.

Jihan Mohammed, 36, said the Miswat Library is a nurturing alternative to the long hours her ten-year-old son used to spend playing in the street. She’s noticed a remarkable difference in the two years since he started visiting the library.

“Abdullah has become stronger in speech and reading,” Mohammed said, “and his level of awareness is higher.”

Abdullah said the library has created an incentive for him to read. He knows it’s the best place for him to expand his knowledge, interact with friends and develop his public speaking skills.

“Everything is beautiful here,” he said. “Activities, contests and the quiet space make me love the place a lot.”


A Safe Space for Joyful Competition

Ghaleb is pleased with the friendly, competitive atmosphere that shows the children are enjoying themselves. 

“I see great satisfaction among parents who encourage their children to come to the library every day and participate in our activities,” she said.

The Miswat Children’s Library provides a rare cultural venue for children in Aden and neighbouring governorates. The management team ensures a safe space for children that keeps them off the street and protects them from other risks.

Since books nourish the soul as well as the intellect, both young and old can relish the diversity of ideas the library has to offer. With its modest but enduring presence, the library provides a cornerstone of peaceful coexistence in Yemeni society.

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