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ADIBF and the Future of Book Culture

Over the next day and a half, while everyone watching basketball I’m going to repost a number of the things that I wrote for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The ADIBF is the premiere professional fair for the Arab world, thanks in part to an arrangement with the Frankfurt Book Fair. Everyone involved with the ADIBF is amazing, and the events, opportunities, meetings, etc., are all really interesting. And being able to see Abu Dhabi and Dubai is fascinating in and of itself.

“In the near future, Abu Dhabi will be the cultural center for the region,” was the main point that Jumaa Al Qubaisi, the Director of ADIBF, got across during a final round-up meeting about this year’s fair.

This ambition reflects not only the success of the 2010 version of the Book Fair, and the prospects for next year, but takes into account all of the varied activities that are going on in the region, from the Abu Dhabi Library to the Abu Dhabi Literature and Publishers Club to United Printing and Publishing—all of which are geared at getting people to read.

Over the past four years, the ADIBF has grown immensely, with this year being the largest yet. More than 800 exhibitors attended the 2010 Fair, and the floorspace was 30% larger than it was in 2009. On Friday, more than 42,000 visitors flooded the aisles, taking in all of the various displays and all of the cultural events.

There’s a lot more to explore at the fair in addition to the KITAB Sofa conversations and the Discussion Forum. Kids crowded into the Children’s Corner (wehre the KITAB Mobile Reading Bus is also on display) to see puppet shows, hear stories, and read while lounging on a pile of bean bags. Not that far away was the incredibly popular Show Kitchen, where celebrity chefs from around the world demonstrated how to prepare and serve a variety of foods.

The Ezone, which is new to this year’s fair, is giving the regional industry to the latest develops in the digitial world, from ebooks to print-on-demand, and a series of workshops on how to harness digital opportunities.

Each of these programs is pretty spectacular on its own, but taken as a whole it’s clear that this is just part of a much grander general initiative to transform Abu Dhabi into the new publishing hub for the Gulf Region. The ADIBF is only part of this overall goal, which has two major tracks: the professionalization of the publishing industry and the cultivation of the Arab book culture.

On the professional side, the announcement of the creation of Abu Dhabi Distribution—an innovative new distribution company for Arabic titles—in of monumental importance and will most definitely improve the flow of Arabic literature throughout the entire Arab World.

In terms of the social side of thigns, the Abu Dhabi Literature and Publishing Club is one of the most exciting new programs that was launched at the Fair. Throughout the year, this club will host a variety of professional and public programs, including publisher trainings, conferences on architecture, and conversations with world-famous authors.

During this final press conference, Khalid al Dhaheri, the manager of technical service for the Abu Dhabi Library, explained the incredible developments going on in this arena to get books into the hands of as many Abu Dhabi readers as possible. The National Library Initiative is centered around the idea of creating a social learning space and incorporating all different ways of interacting with the written word, from audio and e-books (the Library’s digitization project deserves an article of its own), to mobile libraries and high-tech library vending kiosks.

As ADIBF Managing Director Monika Krauss mentioned, “the content takes precedence over the form.” In other words, she’s less worried about the cup, and more concerned with the coffee. Or, put in more plain language—the goal of all these programs is to create great literature and get it in the hands of interested readers by whatever means necessary.

Kalima, the ADIBF, the new Club, the Abu Dhabi Library—put together, it’s quite clear that Abu Dhabi is well on its way to becoming one of the most important hubs in the Arab world for the production, promotion, and consumption of the written word.

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