Twelve years after its foundation stone was laid, Cairo University's Central Library has been inaugurated, reports Nevine El-Aref
Cairo University was the scene of a special ceremony last week to mark the inauguration of its new library. Dozens of university professors and government ministers along with journalists and photographers flocked to the library to witness its official unveiling by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak.
The eight-storey edifice, called the New Central Library (NCL), which combines the modern and early 20th century style of Cairo University is an awe-inspiring educational and cultural complex. Its entrance hall is a small open-air museum of modern art, displaying a collection of paintings by renowned Egyptian artists Salah Taher and Helmi El-Tuni. "This museum will introduce modern art to students, some of whom are not really acquainted with its techniques," Mohsen Shaalan, head of the Fine Arts sector, told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Up ahead is Cairo University's treasure museum where a priceless collection of the university's 100-year-old history is on display. The show includes documents of the university's founding and coins and medals presented to Cairo University by several Arab and foreign countries. An array of valuable manuscripts and historical books, including Description de L'Egypt, original documents of the French Expedition in Egypt in 1798 including decisions kept secret by Napoleon Bonaparte, and rare copies of the Quran in both Arabic and Turkish are on show. Copies of the Bible and the Islamic book Sahih Al-Boukhari as well as the university's oldest bachelor degree certificates issued by the Faculty of Commerce in 1917, and other degrees from the faculties of engineering, medicine and dentistry presented in 1939, are also exhibited.
Also on display are the records of the names of students from the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, including the transcripts of Nobel Literature Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz.
The NCL's first floor includes computers connected to the Internet, and which link the university to libraries, international and regional information centres, networks and banks for global scientific research and higher studies. It also provides an online general index search.
A first floor hall will host visitors. The second and third floors are devoted to student and research services. It includes large research and reading halls as well as the Taha Hussein Hall for the blind.
A display of Egypt's cultural and natural heritage from ancient times to the Coptic and Islamic eras is also among the NCL services. The display hall, established in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, demonstrates Egypt's historical span by screening a two-hour "Culturama" which uses state-of-the-art technology on a 180- degree interactive screen. Records of Egypt's architecture, archaeology and folklore are also presented.
"The new technology has made it possible to see Egypt in a way that we never imagined before, to see our country as it was thousands of years ago," said Fathi Saleh, director of CULTNAT, as he guided Mrs Mubarak through the hall. "This collaboration has produced the means to make Egyptian cultural heritage known worldwide, not just the era of the Pharaohs, but our entire heritage."
Professor Sherif Shahin, the NCL director, told the Weekly that the library was built using an initial LE70 million provided by the university's personal resources and contributions made by Egyptian businessmen and officials. A second phase will start after a planned LE25 million budget is made available. Extra floors will include reading and conference halls for 450 people, and a cafeteria.
"The NCL is a lofty structure which aims not only at meeting the standard of its counterparts abroad but at providing hi-tech services to the university's researchers, professors and students," said Shahin.
"It is a dream come true," said Abdel-Rahman who asked Mrs Mubarak to adopt under her auspicious building a new Cairo University campus. The original building, constructed in 1908, has simply become too small following the increase in the number of students.
During this current academic year, the university's student body numbers 250,000. They are being taught by 13,000 professors and assistants.
Accompanied by Hani Hilal, minister of higher education and scientific research, and Ali Abdel-Rahman, head of Cairo University, Mrs Mubarak toured the premises. She described the new library as an asset in developing culture and education and was particularly happy with the digital library which connects with those abroad.
"We still need more to complete this cultural and educational landmark," said Mrs Mubarak who called on all Egyptians, especially the university's graduates, to contribute to its development and to donate whatever was possible. "Cairo University educated hundreds of thousands of people who are now in high-ranking positions all over the world," Mrs Mubarak said. It's