I had the pleasure to interview Nancy and Harvey Bacus from the Books and More Library Jordan, a very nice library, one of a kind. I visited a few times with my son and my wife, took some pictures, and want to share with you the story and people behind the library. Read about the idea, the challenges they were facing, and keeps them going. If you like it, also make sure to read my post about Where to go with Kids in Amman
Dear Nancy and Harvey, you are the founder and director of Books and More in Amman, Jordan, a library for expats and locals alike. Please introduce yourself.
Harvey and Nancy Bacus, retired educators with a passion for supporting families and learning, started Books And More library when they heard about the need. Both are readers and have a great appreciation for books and reading.
How did you come up with the idea of opening a library in Jordan? Who supports you?
A Jordanian physician living in California heard about a library opening in Prague, CR in 1997. He asked the gentleman who was requested to start libraries in Eastern Europe if he would find someone to open a library in Jordan. He said there is nothing like this in Jordan available for the family. Harvey and I were in Prague in 2002 when this same gentleman proposed the idea to us of starting a library in Jordan. Approaching retirement as educators, it would be a challenge for sure as neither of us is librarians by trade or have a background in library science. But, both of us are readers and have a great appreciation for books and reading.
Thus, after retirement in 2003, we began the journey and adventure of starting a library.
There were several visits to Jordan over many months; visits to government ministries to seek permission, interviews with business people as to the feasibility of a library, etc. We interviewed university graduates, hotel owners, shop owners seeking their suggestions, input, and help. As there were no public/family/lending libraries here, it was a novel idea to many of those we interviewed. With permission from the Ministry of Culture, Books & More opened her doors in the 7th Circle area between Safeway and Cozmo supermarkets in May 2010.
Friends and family in the USA are major contributors to cover the financial needs of the library; several businessmen in Jordan have also come alongside financially to help sustain the library.
We charge a small fee for membership which allows families and/or individuals to check out/borrow books and DVDs, with return date 3 weeks from the check-out date. Basically, this covers the cost of processing and keeping books in good condition for use.
Tell us something about the challenges you encountered and how you cope with them.
Challenges are a daily experience in life but a person must patiently work through them. It took from 2003, upon our retirement, to 2010 for the doors of the library to open to the public. The question above tells a bit of what we pursued in the research and planning, and even if it was feasible, to start a library. Book drives took place in the US. A list was prepared on every book with a title, author, publisher, and copyright date; books were then packed in numbered boxes ready for shipping. We were required to present the list to the Min. of Culture for approval. The entire year of 2009 was spent seeking a location for the library and finally, at the end of 2009, such a site was located and approved. We sent word to friends in the US, “send the container”.
When the container arrived, it held more than 10,000 books that then needed to be sorted as to subject, pertinent to what age (children, youth, adult/fiction or non-fiction/history, etc.) as well as some furniture and other necessary supplies to help set up the library.
The latest challenge we faced was finding a new site as we had been asked to vacate the location at 7th Circle by end of July 2017. Finding a suitable, affordable location is/was a formidable task and as the date for moving out loomed closer and closer, the thoughts of where to go and what to do loomed even greater. Imagine trying to find a place suitable to house 24,000 books & DVDs, furniture, equipment, and space for the activities planned and organized for patrons? Plus we wanted the building itself be very “inviting” to those who entered the doors. In mid-May, the present location was shown to us and upon first sight, one might easily have said “no way”. The building had been vacant for 3 to 4 years; the garden was overgrown, full of trash, old broken office furniture; the inside was layered with dust, broken windows and net-screens, doors had been broken, the neighborhood feral cats called it “home”. BUT looking past all of those things that could be repaired and restored, it answered our criteria: suitable space, affordable, and “patron friendly” once cleaning, painting, and repairs were made. Local repairman and craftsmen cleaned and polished floors, repaired water damaged walls, updated electricity and plumbing, and six university students and their leader and a married couple all from the US came in with paint, paintbrushes and worked through the ground floor painting ceilings, beautiful crown molding with fine details, walls and wood-work preparing for the move at the end of July. They also helped pack books, loaded six truckloads of boxes of books, furniture, and equipment during this time of preparation and we vacated the building at 7th Circle July 29,2017. With boxes and furniture centered in the ground floor rooms, the students continued to paint walls, ceilings, and woodwork with absolutely no complaint as they struggled through the obstacle courses.
July 24, 2017 was our last day operating at 7th Circle; September 25th with great joy and excitement was our first day operating at 5 Zaher Street.
The best we could/can do is to cope with challenges as they arrive working through them one at a time and one day at a time.
Your project is truly unique, you have plenty of books in several languages. Can you please provide some facts and figures about Books and More.
As mentioned above, 10,000 books came in a container from the US, therefore when we opened in 2010 the majority were in English and not all of those 10,000 were put on shelves. Space would not allow that.
We have worked hard to build Arabic books for all ages. Our focus has been especially strong in the children’s library as our goal is to help children develop a real love for reading.
Books & More relies on donations of good quality books. People will often put money in our hands and specifically tell us to purchase new books as they ’donate’ to the cause. We continue to add other languages as people leave Jordan and seek places to donate their good books for all ages. Thus we have books in Arabic, English, and are working on German, French, Spanish and Korean.
Space is always a factor when adding more books so we carefully choose before processing the books. We have bar-codes on over 26,000 books and DVDs available for our patrons to use.
You can read at the library and also take books home if you are a member. Can you please explore a bit more on that?
Our library hours are from 10:a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday. We are closed on Friday and Sunday. When we are open, people are welcome to come in and read books, magazines or the newspaper. University students often come into the library to study; members can use the internet to do research. Becoming a member allows that person to check out books and DVDs to take home and enjoy. Borrowing time is three weeks and we always tell our readers, if they finish their books, bring them back early and check out more. Books and More keeps the Membership fees reasonable.
Tell me about a satisfying moment and what keeps you going?
- Seeing children so engrossed in a book that they are not aware of anything going on around them.
- Talking to a mom who has brought her children in for the first time and while they are reading she is standing in awe of all the books and overwhelmed of how many books are available, so grateful for such a place.
- Hearing a dad reading to his small children, laughing and enjoying a book.
- Watching children ‘grow up’ in the library; since 2010 we have seen children move from ‘learning to read’ to reading thick, big books found in the “Chapter/Youth” room or even the High School room.
- Helping children (and parents) to learn to love to read and that reading can be fun.
You offer plenty of events for children and adults in the library. What kind of activities do you have?
On Facebook events and activities are posted taking place at Books & More.
- One Saturday a month is Chess; boards are set up for children to play.
- Another Saturday is “Legos”.
- Storytime for the little ones is held three times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, check FB.
- Summer ‘day camps’ are planned for children out of school. Again, the dates and themes will be posted on FB.
- Winter camps are also planned when children are taking a break from school
- Knitting and crocheting times are set for women; bring your own materials, sit, knit, and chat.
Is there something special you would like to point out?
Books and More is a library for everyone. It is a bridge between young and old, educated and not well educated, rich or poor, nationals and ex-pats. It is delightful to listen to the various languages, to hear moms sharing with one another of their experiences of raising children, and taking care of a home.
Books & More has Arabic and English speaking employees; our librarian and business manager are both Jordanians. Books and More has a Children’s Activities Director who plans all the special activities.
Thank you very much for the interview, your great initiative, and the service you provide to many people. Please keep up the good work. I wish you all the best for the coming years of the library, Bastian!
For more information on Books and More see below