Another week, another trip, this time Lebanon. Lebanon has not had an easy few years. Torn apart by civil war, strife, conflicts and subsequent wars have played havoc with development efforts, reconciliation and the tourism industry. In the days before I arrived, violence flared in the Northern city of Tripoli, around 60km from Beirut. On Saturday, 12 people were killed in violence linked to disputes over Lebanon’s nearest neighbour, Syria. Unlike many of its neighbours, Lebanon is not oil or resource rich, and instead has developed a strong financial sector which defied the global crisis in recent years. Yet tourism has again been battered. Many countries in the Gulf have advised their citizens not to travel here. The UK advises against all travel outside of a narrow band circling Beirut. The hotels and restaurants are quiet, and it’s been reported that hotel occupancy in Tripoli is 0%.
The army’s presence has been stepped up on the street in response to the unrest. They have long had a high number on the streets, but now they are accompanied by more officers, guns, and tanks. The army outnumber the tourists.
For Lebanese libraries, the challenge is to find a way to be motivated, to work together, in the face of the country’s problems. They need to find ways to reach out to new partners, funding agencies, commercial organisations, NGOs and others. Like most countries, libraries are not a priority for the government here, but there are others who could help fill the gap in these other sectors to fund digitisation and library modernisation projects.
Lebanese Library Association has a newly elected board who now realise the challenges and opportunities they face in the term ahead to work more closely with the library community. They need to stay focused, make working in the association as streamlined as possible, and keep talking to their members. Action plans on these goals in place, we can only hope the situation in the rest of the country stabilises and lets them get on with it.