IBBY Palestine Meeting Mary Fasheh “My Experience with Books and Libraries”

Thursday 21 January 2021 by Rania

IBBY Palestine meeting last month was very rich and interactive. The speaker was Mary Fasheh, the pioneer of librarians in Palestine and one of the founders of IBBY Palestine and its Vice President. Mary spoke about her long and rich experience with books and libraries.


I was born in Jerusalem. I started my education at Jerusalem Girl’s College where I attended Grades 1 and 2. A comment made by one of the teachers “she loves to listen to stories” was the beginning of my journey with books.

My mother used to tell me”: Enough reading, go play with the children”. I completed my education at the Friends Girls School. After graduation, I taught there for few years and then I became the secretary at the school.

Studying in the United States 1965-1970

I got a scholarship from Western College for Women where I got my BA with major in Religion. I continued my studies at the University of North Carolina and earned my Masters degree in Library Science in 1970.

The American Immigration Authority went after me to return to my homeland but the Israeli occupation has taken place. I stayed in the United States until my father got for me a family reunion permit and I returned home. Some of the events that happened during my study in American are: Landing on the moon, kidnapping of TWA plane, a complete solar eclipse, occupation of West Bank, and the death of Jamal Abdul Nasser.

The period of work

First: Working in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA):

Training College for Women in Ramallah; HQS of UNRWA in Beirut; & Amman, Jordan 1971-1993

There was a library post waiting for me at UNRWA’s Training College for Women at Altireh. I started from zero. I started reading Arabic books to get the library terms.

Then I started to classify and catalog the books and put them on shelves. Also, I started typing the catalog cards at home and bringing them back to the library to be filed.

An Expert in Library Science from Finland came to visit the library and asked me to apply for the post of Assistant/Teacher Training Specialist at HQS Beirut, Lebanon. In the beginning, the Lebanese Authorities protested about employing a non-Lebanese person. But the Expert insisted and I got the job with a promotion from Grade 10 to 13. Before UNRWA HQS moved to Jordan, because of the civil war, The Library Expert left and I took her post at grade 15.

The Achievements I made in Lebanon and Jordan

Supervision and field visits to the 5 areas of UNRWA: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza strip.

Training in library work:
Short courses during summer holidays; In-service training for teacher/librarians for a period of one scholastic year; and training by correspondence.

Establishment of school Libraries :
Establishment of 7 central school libraries in the camps. Added to the school plan, whenever a new school building is to be erected, a room (double the size of a classroom) to be a library.

Establishment of Library Posts:
2 Full time librarians for the Education Development Centers
8 Assistant /Librarian at Teacher and Vocational Training Centers
Documentation and Library Officer at UNRWA HQS
5 Supervisors (Library Services)
Full Time librarians for Audio /Visual Centers
Raising Library Budget from 30-45 US dollars per year to 1 US dollar per student

Administrative Work:
First : Whenever the Director of the School Education Department takes annual leave or goes on Field visits I used to act in his place (a total of 277 days).
My work with UNRWA ended in 1993 after 7 posts (mine is one) were abolished for financial deficit.

Second: Working at Tamer Institute for Community Education 1994-1996
In the beginning I started working at the library as a volunteer. Then I was appointed as Coordinator, Developing and Activating Children Libraries. Among the activities I did:

Survey of the situation of children libraries in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Training courses for librarians in library science: in the Institute and in various places
3 training sessions in library skills for children 9-12 years old during 1995-1996.

My First Book Competition: Where children were asked to write their own stories
Establishment of “Darat al-tufula”: a small room on the upper floor to sell quality books.

Palestinian Resource Center for Children’s Literature

Field visits in the West Bank

Writing several information books, posters, and compilation of bibliography on children’s books (published by Tamer Institute)

Made use of the 7 “My Reading Passports to encourage the reading habit

My job at Tamer ended in 1996 when my brother resigned as Director.

Third: The Palestinian Economic Policy Research Center (MAS) 1995-2010
I started as part time librarian because I was still working at Tamer Institute. MAS was located in Jerusalem. I chose the largest room to be a library. Then I collected all the books from the researchers’ offices and started ordering books and periodicals for classification, cataloging and entering data in the computer. The most difficult thing was travelling from Ramallah to Jerusalem because of Israeli closures.
MAS decided to move to Ramallah. A newly-built whole floor was rented and a spacious place became the library. Finally, MAS received a grant and was able to build its own building in 2010.

Among my other activities were: selling MAS publications, preparation of monthly reports, helping in the preparation of the library budget, lending books to the researchers, photocopying pages for university students, etc. Also, I was able to visit book fairs in Cairo and Baghdad and attend local seminars in Ramallah during my work at MAS.

Fourth: Work at other libraries

I helped as a consultant to establish a library at the Palestinian Monetary Authority and trained one of their employees to be responsible of the library.

Friends Girls’ School – where I managed to get money for the library through selling falafel sandwiches at recess time and asking parents to provide cakes to sell to the students.

Ramallah Public Library - classification of books

Khaldiyyah Library in the Old City of Jerusalem - Classification of books every Friday 10:am-4:00 pm

Palestinian Technical College in Ramallah – I taught one course “ the Library and its message” to students.

Fifth: Providing Palestinian publications to three Libraries in the United Sates – 1994-2016

Library of Congress; Harvard College Library, and University of California in Los Angeles

Sixth: Membership in:

The Jordan Library Association; The Palestinian Library and Information Association; International Association of School Libraries; and International Board on Books for Youth

Seventh: Attendance of International and Local Conferences and Educational Courses :

IFLA Conference in Madrid; Arab Reading Society in Bahrain; Arab Educational Conference in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt; Conference on Children Book Illustrations, in Safaqes, Tunisia; Educational courses in London, Boston, Wales, and Cyprus.

Lastly, I still enjoy reading information and fiction books, and registering their titles & authors in my yearly diaries.

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