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The joy of print


July 21, 2000: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For information on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.


As editor of an electronic journal, I'm as enthusiastic about electronic publishing as they come. But I also partake in the pleasures of print, and I can't resist sharing one tale about books in Cairo.

Ever since I came to Cairo in 1998 from the University of Hawai'i, I've been struggling to find ways to get English language books. The American University in Cairo (AUC) has a decent English language library, but there's pretty severe traffic driving to the university and I don't have book borrowing priviledges there anyway. There are also a few small English language bookstores in Cairo, but I haven't found much worthwhile there. In the meantime, I've spent a huge amount of money ordering books through online distributors, and paying what seems like half my monthly salary on overseas shipping costs.

My need for English language books extends beyond professional material (most of which has to be ordered from abroad). With the Cairo heat topping 40 degrees C. (104 F.) much of the last two weeks, about all there is to do on the weekends and evenings is lock oneself in an air-conditioned room and read. Novels and pleasure reading are required to make it through a Cairo summer.

Imagine, then, my great surprise and delight when--aftere two full years of living in this neighborhood--I discovered a wonderful English language library right around the corner from my house! The library is run by a church which shares a building with a British private school

The extremely well-organized library is stocked with thousands of books, most of which were probably left behind by English-speaking expats working in Cairo. The library is run by a slight, cheerful, and amazingly energetic very elderly British woman who manages everything on a volunteer basis, including staffing the library some 15 hours per week. The librarian (Laura) has apparently spent most of her very long life in Cairo but she's quite secretive about her age and past. I think that getting to know her and hearing her stories will be one of the best parts of visiting the library.

Visitors can check out two books for up to a month, with a fine of 25 Egypian piasters (seven cents U.S., $.07) per month for overdue books (I think the fine rate must have been set some 50 years ago and kept the same since then). In the front of the library, Laura has her own special recommendations on a table. My first day I selected _Sphere_ by Michael Crichton and _The Island of the Color-Blind_ by Oliver Sachs from Laura's picks.

On my next visit, with more time to wander around the library, I got all 3 books of the Cairo trilogy by the famous Egyptian author, Naguib Mahfouz, and also an irresistably titled book I picked off the shelf: _Milestones in Palestine: The Journeys of Jane and John_, published in 1937! Laura, impressed by how fast I had read my first two books so quickly and always looking for kindred reading souls, also made a special loan to me of a personal book of hers which she thought I would enjoy.

So yes, I will very much look forward to the days when I can order any book online and have it downloaded to my e- reader in seconds. But I'll also sorely miss some of the joys of print -- wandering through a community library on a summer evening; finding, holding, touching, smelling, reading a 70-year-old book that I never knew existed; and being greeted by the warm smile and personal recommendations of a wonderful librarian. --Mark Warschauer

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Last updated: August 6, 2000 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0