By Nawara Fattahova
KUWAIT: Many people are still interested in history and heritage, including old books. At the quaint Youm Al-Bahaar village on the seaside, visitors can find the Kuwait Heritage Library that was launched in 2008. The books here are for both reading and sale.
The owner of the library, Saleh Al-Misbah, is also the owner of the biggest personal library in Kuwait, with over 120,000 books. Misbah is a researcher in Kuwait history and collector of rare publications including books, magazines, newspapers and videocassettes. He is an author and co-author of several books, a consultant at Al-Fanar Kuwait Center for Documenting Humanitarian Work, and was a board member of different societies and associations and editor-in-chief of Al-Bayan magazine.
"I have over 50,000 books at home. I have also rented a storage place, where I have over 60,000 books. I also have 120 cartons of magazines and videocassettes. This is my passion," he told Kuwait Times. "This hobby started in 1975 when I was a student in secondary school, after I visited the Islamic Books Exhibition. In the same year, the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters held the Arabic Book Fair, which has been held annually since that year. After I graduated from college in 1981, I started collecting literature works, as this was my field of study. Later, I graduated from the College of Education at Kuwait University, and started collecting poetry books," Misbah said.
In 1984, he got inspired for a totally new collection. "I read an interview about a British man who was a collector of first-issue English magazines. This inspired me to start collecting the first issue of Arabic magazines. I started collecting magazines of different colleges of Kuwait University. Then I went to the newspaper area in Shuwaikh seeking the first issue of newspapers and magazines, but unfortunately most of them didn't have it," he pointed out.
"This was my biggest challenge - to find the first issue of all the magazines and newspapers. The first Kuwaiti magazine 'Al Kuwait' was published in 1928, and I received this issue as a gift. After I read this magazine, I found there is a book with the same information written by Abdulaziz Al-Rsheid, who travelled to various countries," added Misbah.
Misbah is specialized in Kuwait and Arabian Gulf publications. "I was only collecting rare books, but many other collectors do that. So, I started collecting the first issue of the magazines and newspapers. If I find a rare copy of a book or magazine, I will buy more than one, to have a reserve copy for exchanging with other collectors. Now I have over 6,000 first copies of magazines from around the world," he told Kuwait Times.
Misbah mainly focuses on Kuwaiti publications in both Arabic and English, then Arabic-only publications. He is also interested in international publications written by Kuwaitis. "Sometimes I buy many books in a compendium, then only choose one or two books out of it. Some books I sell or donate to countries in Africa. I also give away some books as gifts. People also always bring me books as gifts," he added.
In 1989, Misbah participated in an exhibition for the first time. "This was the 'Teachers' Hobbies Exhibition', as I was a teacher at that time. They interviewed me on radio, and from that point, people started knowing me, as my hobby was something new. This encouraged me to continue collecting. People start calling to sell, give or exchange books with me. Sometimes I buy cartons of books from individuals who collect books discarded from some ministries," said Misbah.
The value of his books ranges from KD 1 up to KD 2,000. "For instance, the value of 'Kuwait History' by author Abdulaziz Al-Rsheid in two parts is KD 2,000. As I had a huge quantity of books, I decided to launch this library to relieve pressure on my house. I allow people to read the books or buy them. I also have an account on Instagram for the library: @kuwait_heritage_library. My daughter also has a different account on Instagram: @Bookgardenkw."
Misbah gets his books from different sources including local auctions held in diwaniyas and online from various international websites. His library is specially categorized in a way not seen in other libraries. His personal account on Twitter and Instagram is: @Saleh_Misbah. The Heritage Library is open daily from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.
Another heritage library - Abdulaziz Al-Sanad - is located in Kaifan and opened in 2021. It includes books on Kuwait and Gulf countries. But the books are only for reading and not for sale. It opens daily from 12 pm to 4:30 pm. The third heritage library is at the Kuwait Heritage Society, which includes rare Kuwaiti publications, also for display and reading only. It opened in 2017. It is open every Tuesday from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm.