Abu Salma Public Library

Abu Salma Public Library

Abu Salma Public Library (Nazareth, 2015)

This library, located in Nazareth, the only majority Palestinian city in Israel, originally opened in 1980 or ’81 in an old house. Nazareth, along with Ramat and Tamra, were the first locations in ’48 (Israel) to have Palestinian libraries. The Abu Salma Public Library serves Nazareth as well as the surrounding villages– serving a total population of over 100,000. It is the only public library branch in Nazareth.

The library’s collection contains mostly academic materials, but it also holds stories in both Arabic and English. The nonfiction is organized by subject, not language, so Arabic, English, and Hebrew books are intershelved. (By contrast, a library in a nearby area called Nazareth Ilit/Elite serves a partly Palestinian community but doesn’t have any Arabic-language books.) Among the publishers whose work is represented in the Abu Salma Public Library are Maktabat Kul Shay and the Tamer Institute.

Like elsewhere, library funding tends to be first thing cut. Funding to keep the building running comes from the municipality via taxes, but funding for books, computers, and programs comes from the Israeli government (not municipalities). The amount from the Israeli ministry is determined by the number of librarians within the organization, but since the municipality does not have enough money to fund the library adequately, they have only 4 positions (6 people) who are doing the job of what the library staff calculates should be 11. The artificially low headcount then results in less money for books and other necessities from the ministry.

Books are very expensive, making it difficult to keep the collection current. Rather than being given cash, the librarians are given credit that can be used only for certain book distributors. So as not to be limited to only those vendors, there’s an informal system to get desired titles in which a chain of people plays a role in getting a given book into the collection. However, this means an added cost—each book is touched by four or five people, each of whom wants a 5-10% fee for their work.