Guest Post: Karen Leggett Abouraya on Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books

By Karen Leggett Abouraya

Dial, 2012

Co-author/artist Susan L. Roth and I first connected as members of the Children’s Book Guild, a warm and wonderful gathering of authors, illustrators and other book lovers.

When Susan traveled to Egypt in 2009, I insisted she visit the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, built in the spirit of the ancient Library in Alexandria. With a raised eyebrow and a skeptical husband, she agreed. I learned in an email that Susan was awed by the architecture and sheer drama of the library:

But Susan also made her own connection with the children’s librarian, Shaymaa Saad,
who would become the narrator of our story.

Now she blogs on our site, expressing the hope that became real for those moments in Alexandria, that “if we try to raise our children on crossing the bridge and interacting with the other, many misunderstandings will be cleared to all our benefit.”

Our Hands connections have been serendipitous, exhilarating, goose-bumpy – and available to anyone with a tinge of curiosity. When I needed high quality photos of the library in a hurry, I wrote to a generic email address on the Library’s Facebook page and crossed my fingers.

No problem, responded Kholoud Said, and the photos were mine.

Another generic email to the British Library, seeking permission to post images of the ancient Duanhong scrolls – so similar to the ancient Egyptian ones – on our website (

Victoria Swift emailed her permission, and now I’ll look her up the next time I am able to travel to London.

Soon (well, not so soon really…) with advance copies were in our hands, we learned that library director Ismail Serageldin was speaking in Washington. Did he have time to squeeze in a coffee?


And did he really have a suit like the one Susan snipped for him out of gray papers?

“Well, actually…pretty close.” He laughed.

To celebrate the launch of our book, we connected fourth and fifth graders in Alexandria, Virginia (Burgundy Farm Country Day School) and Alexandria, Egypt. They discovered they all like pizza and computer games, but they also learned that for all the wondrous opportunities afforded by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, it was the American children who have multiple, free public libraries close to their homes.

We are in fact, in the midst of National Friends of Libraries Week, sponsored by the ALA division United for Libraries. The two Friends groups honored with awards for innovative activities to support their libraries will be receiving signed copies of Hands Around the Library. and Friends of the Takoma Park Library in Maryland will be hosting a Hands Around the Library event on Oct. 24.

Do you know of a cool library project, in the U.S. or beyond? Let us know about it at

The words of Andrew Carnegie still ring true: “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”