Sarah Dolan

World’s Oldest Library Will Open to the Public

Sarah Dolan

During my freshman year at Emerson College, my writing professor took our class to the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) Central Library in Copley Square. I remember browsing the fiction section, ogling at the texts in the rare books collection and trying to get the perfect shot of the beautiful courtyard. After less than half an hour, I knew I wanted to get a library card for this historic building. Founded in 1895, the BPL’s Central Library may seem old, but it is very new when compared to other libraries around the world.

Considered to be the oldest continually operating library in the world, Morocco’s al-Qarawiyyin University Library was founded in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a prosperous merchant. Originally a mosque, it was expanded in the tenth century to also contain a university and library. The library, previously only available to students and scholars, is slated to open to the public in 2017.

The library holds around four thousand manuscripts. Among its most precious texts are Qurans dating back to the ninth century and an early collection of Islamic hadiths. The collection’s crown jewel is an original copy of the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, or Introduction, written in the fourteenth century.

By the 2000s, over a thousand years after it was built, the library had fallen into such a state of disrepair that some of the ancient manuscripts housed there were at risk. Canadian-Moroccan architect Aziza Chaouni was asked in 2012 by the Moroccan Ministry of Culture to renovate the library. Chaouni was tasked with addressing the building’s structural problems and lack of insulation, along with a myriad of infrastructural issues including plumbing problems, broken tiles and cracked beams. She also endeavored to update the library as a modern public space while preserving its vast history. The restored library has a new gutter system, solar panels, air conditioning and—perhaps most importantly—a temperature- and humidity-controlled room to house the oldest manuscripts.

Upon completing the four-year renovation, Chaouni is excited to open the doors. “Both Moroccans and foreign visitors will get to glimpse, for the first time, some of the library’s amazing and unique manuscripts, as well as to enjoy its architecture.”

Did You Know?
The room housing the library‘s most treasured manuscripts now has modern security, but it wasn’t always kept this way. According to the library’s curator, Abdelfattah Bougchouf, the door to the manuscript room originally had four locks with four keys. Each of the keys was kept with a different person, so all four people needed to be present to open the door and access the rare books.

Photo credit: Khonsali

PSG Updates

Let PSG keep you informed about the latest industry buzz and developments!

Enter your info below to receive our weekly updates!

We value your privacy and time. Updates are sent weekly to the email address provided. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.