Project Mosque Library
I would like to start by saying that I’m honored to be able to share our rich little library’s story with everyone. Thank you so much for this opportunity. It was by all means a team effort of the mosque, the community, the donors and volunteers- I am simply telling the story. I would like to thank the management of Roswell Community Masjid where the library is set up. A mosque’s role is so critical- without their approval and support, there would be no library.
Alhamdulillah, in April 2015, we set up the RCM Book Nook- a Children’s Islamic Library for ages 0-13 in our mosque, RCM, (Roswell Community Masjid) in a suburb of Atlanta, GA. A lot of people have asked me for details on how we did this so that they may do the same. But the ‘how’ is strongly rooted in the ‘why’. Collecting a large selection of books does not a library make. If there is no clear objective, an unambiguous, explicit goal, then no one will be able to benefit from it.
I will now relate why I proposed a mosque library. It may have nothing to do with why you want to do so, but it might help you organize your own ideas. However, those not interested, can skip to the next section, HOW.
In the United States, I always expected mosques to serve the broader role of a community center, because it has to provide the Islamic environment that we don’t get in a non-Muslim country. However, mosques in general do not have a welcoming attitude towards women and children. They get the dingy corner, the long staircase, the smelly basement and the side entrance in the building. (The fact that there is a blog called Side Entrance dedicated to drawing attention to this injustice says enough.) I completely fail to understand why this is the case, when women have with them the most precious possession for the entire ummah- the next generation.
Children are repeatedly told not to talk, run or play. How can a child be expected to sit completely still?
The turning point for me came when I realized that I had to stop pointing fingers and get up and do something about it. It’s easy to blame ‘the mosque.’ But a mosque cannot randomly start a program. It can only be offered if someone takes responsibility to run it. Since taking an interest, I have learnt about so many wonderful projects taking place inside mosques in other places, like complete khutbah programs for children, basketball clubs, daddy-daughter clubs, even fitness classes for women. How? Because somebody took the initiative to do it!
What I feel very strongly about is that mosques, in their very essence, are about socializing and interacting with others. If you want complete silence, then you will probably be better off praying in a quiet corner in the comfort of your home. But once you enter a public setting, then you need to adjust your attitude. Extra rewards don’t come easy.
I really hope that everyone is able to see the shift in focus for each type of worship. In a congregation, the emphasis shifts from a one-on-one connection with Allah to being in touch with your community and worshipping as one large whole. If Allah had any problem with that then children would not have even be allowed in one of the most rewarding acts of worship- hajj. It is important to understand the different aspects of each kind of worship and to not expect them all to be like I’tikaaf.
I want to clarify that I am not supporting children running wild inside mosques, or ignoring a particularly upset baby. Of course parents must watch their children, but they shouldn’t be discriminated because of them. Mosque etiquette can be taught, but children learn over time with repeated reminders- just like adults!
A better solution would be to invest in a high quality sound system so that the speaker’s voice is always clear, and adequate space and resources for the women’s area to keep children occupied.
If we can’t even tolerate our own children inside our place of worship, then how can we possibly paint a peace-loving, tolerant picture of Muslims around the world?
Our biggest challenge today is countering the negativity surrounding Muslims and Islam. Our children will grow up carrying that weight on their shoulders. I don’t want them to make excuses for their beliefs, because they do not have the knowledge, tools or information to defend them.
When they understand the essence of Islam then through their general attitude towards life, they will show the beauty of Islam. But they can only do that if they grow up seeing tolerance, kindness, forgiveness and compassion in what should be the hub of the Muslim community- the mosque, where Muslims interact with each other in many diverse ways.
And so, it is this very idea that lies at the core of my resolve to set up a library for children inside a mosque. I want children to LOVE going to the mosque. I want them to know that there is a place there just for them. They are most welcome; they can be themselves and grow to love Islam.
And now we come to how we set about doing it.
Proposal; Aims and Objectives
The first thing that I would recommend doing is to draft a proposal detailing the what, why and how of setting up your library. If you can’t put it down in writing, then probably it is not a very clear idea as yet, and trying to execute a half-baked idea is a recipe for disaster.
The first questions that your proposal needs to address are:
What are your goals in establishing a library?
How do you expect the community to benefit from it?
Research is important, it really helps you shape your idea and give it direction.
I wanted to do it because I wanted to welcome children into the mosque.
Every decision that I made and every idea that I presented was done with this very end goal in mind. I wanted to bring children into the mosque and give them a fun environment that caters to their interests, and share with them the wonderful world of books to learn from.
I believe that a library is the first step towards a much wider scope of activities for children that can be developed over time using this valuable resource.
And so, I encourage you to think about why you want to set up a library, and what you can do to achieve your end goal.
Where will it be housed?
Mosques seldom have spare rooms to dedicate to a project like this (although they should) and even when brand new buildings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are built, space is not allocated to a resource room, and so I appreciate our mosque to have had the heart to do so.
It is a good idea to get involved, especially if a new mosque/community center is being built, and try to garner support to convince the management to make room for this project.
There are a lot of benefits of setting up a library in a mosque, because it already gets a lot of traffic that is your target audience. Even people, who might not be too ‘religious-minded’ and not interested in visiting a mosque for personal worship, might still go for Quran classes for their children.
It’s a general institution. There is no owner, and anyone who wants to benefit from the library can easily come in and do so.
When I approached our mosque with the proposal, I was unsure if they would allow it. Fortunately, the mosque’s vision coincided with my own. It is a huge blessing to be a part of a progressive mosque. Now, when I compare it to many others, I have more appreciation for the crystal clear sound, large women’s section, a porous partition so that children can see both parents, women in leading positions in the administration and encouraging attitude for new ideas.
Perhaps your mosque will not be so encouraging. Perhaps it will, but you’re just afraid it won’t be. The first step is to try. In all probability, if your idea is well thought out and sustainable, then chances are that it will get approved.
Whenever you have any kind of public dealing in an institution or organization, there will always be disagreements, disappointment, hiccups, politics and so on. That’s perfectly normal, and to be expected, so be prepared for it but don’t get too affected by it.
Lay out the entire course of action in writing first, get it approved and then carry it out step by step with everyone’s consent. This will let you hash out any points of contention in the planning stages, so that once you launch the project, it can all go smoothly because everyone is now on the same page. It leaves very little room for disagreements later on.
I will give you the three P’s of success, God willing, of course.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and none of this can happen overnight. Some things take time, especially the back and forth between mosque committees. It could take months before decisions are finalized. Don’t get demoralized by the open-ended uncertainty.
At the same time, you have to keep at it. If you let it go completely, then it will probably get pushed back to the last thing on the agenda. You have to keep reminding people and asking them again and again…
…but with some intellect and sound judgment. Know when to push forward and when to pull back. Pick your battles. Everything is not worth an argument and souring relations. In the end, you have to work together, so it’s far more sensible to have a good rapport with everyone. Let go of the little things as long as the long-term goal is still intact.
Who is helming the project?
Is it an individual, an organization or a team?
The benefit of an entire team is that the workload gets divided and there is a lot more reach when a group of people is actively promoting the project.
If there is just one main person who is running the project, it can still be done, provided that that one person is extremely driven and motivated, with a very clear idea of what is to be done.
Family support is critical, as, with any project run on donations, it requires tireless energy, commitment and time. Your obligations to your family come first of course, so if you don’t have a system where you can make time for this, then it’s probably better to think of another solution.
Get the right kind of help
Volunteers are the heart and soul of every charitable project. No amount of thanks is adequate for them being there in your time of need and providing help and support.
There are some people you know that you can rely on. There will be others who might show interest and pledge support but will not be available when the time comes. It happens. It’s not personal. Always be super nice to everyone- you never know when they might step up- help is always needed.
Everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses. Not everyone in the team might be the best person for the job that needs to be done. Try to get people with the right kind of expertise involved. People are generally willing to help if asked (nicely).
I had a lot of factors going in my favor, which were providential. As it happens, my mother in law is a professional librarian, and I continue to ask for her help in organizing the library. You can approach your public librarians; they are also usually willing to help. I used to randomly ask for volunteers for whatever task needed to be done, and by the grace of Allah, always got different, yet the best people for the job.
What kind of a library will it be?
This depends on a lot of factors like the space, the management, the volunteers who are willing to commit to looking after the library, and the vision of the people setting it up.
In order to research this question, I visited a number of churches and contacted all the mosques around the US that I could find that had libraries.
This helped me create a number of models that I presented to the administration, keeping in mind the volunteer commitment and community mindset needed to run each one.
By all means, go out there, reach out to people to find out what works best for you and your vision. But I will go ahead and share the models that I put together to make your life a little bit easier.
Model I: The Honor System Open Library
This is the simplest form of running a library. The details are as follows:
- Collect all the books that members of the community would like to donate, in a donation drive.
- Categorize and mark them as the mosque’s property.
- Organize them in open shelving in an easily accessible part of the mosque. (A closed room is not necessary.)
- Let all the community members know of its existence.
- Community members are free to browse, borrow and return the books as they please, based on an honor system where they are expected to return the books after a reasonable amount of time.
- A volunteer librarian can organize the books/arrange new donations once or twice a month.
- There are no membership fees or late fees. Some books do disappear, but there is a certain group of people who regularly take advantage of this resource.
- Because the books are voluntarily donated, the mosque only puts them out there for the community’s benefit. No great effort is made to expand/build on this library.
This model is commonly used in many churches that receive books as donations from their members.
Model II: The Resource Center
Sometimes, albeit rarely; mosques have enough room to dedicate to a library. This model provides enough quiet space for people to be able to study books in the room. In this model:
- The mosque organizes a formal book drive, collecting all the books and donations that it can possibly get.
- The donated books cover a wide range of Islamic subjects and target all different ages.
- All the books are sorted, catalogued, marked, categorized and arranged in the library.
- There is a volunteer librarian who oversees the library.
- The library operates as a resource center only. It is not a lending library.
- Community members are welcome to come and study the books in the library, either for free or for a small fee.
- No books are allowed to leave the room.
Model III: The Children’s Lending Library
This model is geared specifically towards young children, ages 0-13. It is important to have the lending feature, especially where little children are concerned for the following reasons:
- Most parents read to their children at bedtime.
- Children also need to be read to again and again, and allowing them to spend some time with the books, studying, understanding and enjoying them will help them get the most out of the books.
- It is not possible for a number of parents to be reading to their children out loud inside the library, simultaneously. That can only be done in a comfortable, home environment.
- Additionally, ages 8 and above will have novels appropriate for their age and a high reading level, again, which it is not possible to read in the noisy environment of a community center/mosque.
The reason that I do not recommend a library for teens and older students is, that at that age they are now mostly reading on their electronic devices, and it’s probably not feasible to have physical books when it’s not the current trend. Again, this might not be the case in your specific community, so do what best suits your needs.
I hope these three models will help you get you started on thinking about what kind of a library will work best for you.
What about the books?
What kinds of books will you have and where will you get them?
Since our library focused on children’s books, I only researched those. You will need to make a list of all the books that suit your library and how much they cost. Titles will also have to be assessed for appropriate and approved content.
Fortunately for us, there is a very large Islamic bookstore in Atlanta, called Kitab House, and they supply books to people and institutions across the US. We got a large selection of books from them.
Other than that, it took hours upon hours of research online to find hundreds of other titles, and that search is on going. Because of new titles being published all the time, it is actually quite a challenge to be up to date with the latest items on the market. READ Little Muslims, run by Razeena Gutta, author of Faatimah and Ahmed – We’re Little Muslims is an excellent resource for learning about new books, and amazon.com has a huge selection of Islamic children’s books. I would also recommend looking at noorart.com and mini-mumin.com.
Budget and supplies
The mosque supplied the space and bookshelves. Everything else was arranged through donations.
We have about 550 books in our library. That number of books alone can cost over $4,000. You have to decide where to set your goal. There will always be more books to buy. Keep in mind you also have to get other supplies. Aside from bookshelves, you might also want to spend on a desk, chair, furniture for children to sit on, cataloguing and lending supplies, a return box and stationary, decor etc.
Who will run the library?
Someone will have to be present and willing to put in the hours to serve as librarian. It will be even better if there is more than one person, or some people to serve as substitutes so that the entire system doesn’t collapse in that one person’s absence.
How to run a library
Before you get started, be sure to know what you’re getting into. Organizing and running a lending library is a big job. The librarian will have a lot of work on their hands.
It will definitely help if the people who are involved have a passion for reading and for books. Just having read a lot will give you a good base and idea of how to organize and categorize the library. Since this is a very specialized collection of books, so you will have to build your own system of how to organize it.
If you do decide to start a lending library, then you will have to decide if you want to:
- Do it manually, or purchase a software
- Charge a membership fee from patrons or not.
If you intend to do it manually, then you will probably have to purchase library cards and sleeves to go on each book, and have a ledger for all the entries. The entire inventory will also have to be recorded and checked manually.
That requires a very high level of commitment and investment in terms of time and effort.
We purchased software for our library from Resourcemate.com. It is widely used professional library software; and my life as a librarian is made very easy by it, as it provides all services at the click of a button. Each item had to be entered manually, which was definitely time-consuming, along with the learning curve that goes into doing something for the first time. But now my job is made easier by it, and I know that as a volunteer, I can only spend so much of my time in running the library.
Not to mention the fact that I wanted the library to be absolutely modern and state of the art.
Of course, it’s an added expense, and one that needs to be figured into your budget, because you also need a computer/laptop to run it.
This point again goes back to my aims and objectives for the library. The library was never intended to be a dead-end project (as in Model I). It is meant to be a thriving, growing institution. But money makes the world go round, and in order to get new books, the usual upkeep, day to day running, and organizing events/activities for children all require a positive cash flow.
Do you intend to run solely on donations, or hold regular fundraisers that will generate money for the library?
Is the mosque allocating a monthly budget for the library?
This is a very important question and needs to be addressed at the very start.
I am of the personal opinion that a membership fee, however nominal, brings the cash flow in, and gives the mosque something to fall back on. There will always be a certain percentage of books that will be lost/stolen/ripped. Those need to be replaced and new ones to be added to serve a rising number of patrons, along with the expenses mentioned above.
It also makes people feel bound to their commitment, when they know that they’ve paid to become members; then they are more likely to honor the rules like returning on time, and actually coming to use it.
Is there enough interest in the community to fund the project? Is there an individual/group/institution that is providing a significant donation?
I put forward my proposal with considerable backing, so that worst comes to worst, we would still be able to get the library started.
We used three ways to collect donations.
We set up a wish list on amazon from which people could buy books and mail them directly to the mosque. You could also set up a gift registry.
People could donate checks/cash for the library.
We set up a box in the mosque where people could donate their used books.
For more local donations, I also contacted our Islamic schools and local libraries. Sometimes libraries have book sales and they might have one or two Islamic titles.
Other than that, contact ALL Islamic publishers/authors and ask them for donations. You will find that some of them are extremely supportive of this idea and will make generous donations. Even if no one donates, you don’t lose anything, but even if you get even one donation, then, that’s one less book that you have to buy.
However, I would recommend doing this right at the end, when you have something to show them in terms of what you have set up. Once they see your effort, they might be more willing to offer their support.
Be sure to contact them knowing who they are, what kinds of books they publish and what you like about them. You will probably get one shot, and it should be genuine. When I contacted any of the publishers; it was after I had gone through hundreds of books published by them, was really impressed with the contributions that they had made to Islamic literature for children, and I truly wanted to reach out and say that I appreciated it.
Set a timeline
It really helps with achieving the goal when you know you have to get it done by a certain date.
Don’t set it too close or too far. It should be within a reasonable amount of time to get people interested and they should feel a sense of urgency about donating. Our deadline was set to a month, since books could be ordered online as well and we needed to keep in mind shipping times.
The more people that are involved in the core running of this program, the more reach you will have. The team can personally reach out to everyone they know. Going individually to friends and family, even if they don’t live where you’re setting up the library, can help a lot. People like to donate for sadqa jariah, so even out-of- town family members and friends will do so, provided you go to each person and ask them… and then ask them again and again. It is not going to be high on anyone’s priority list like it will be on the organizers’, so keep in mind that you will have to gently remind everyone repeatedly, a reasonable number of times. And even then, only some will donate. That’s ok.
It is definitely worth it to have someone with some popularity/influence in the community, involved in this project. If such a person is supporting and speaking for the project, then people will be more likely to give their support and rally around.
Reach out to everyone you know, all the mosques in your area, all the Islamic schools, mailing lists, social media, every single local Muslim organization- get the word out. Hand out flyers after Jummah and announce it after prayers during the entire course of your drive.
What will the library look like? What will be the vibe? What kind of an environment do you want to create?
Décor plays a vital part achieving your goal. It sets the mood, creates the tone, and tells people in an instant what you’re trying to say- as soon as they step into the room, they will form an opinion based on the décor.
I discussed the design with friends who have a good eye for it. We went through ideas, and then finalized some, keeping in mind the budget and resources at hand.
I am happy to say what an overwhelmingly positive response the decor has had. Children instantly connect with the environment, because they immediately recognize that it is designed for them. At the same time, adults find it appealing, because they know that effort has been made to make their children feel welcome.
I started organizing story times at the library this summer. When I look at the dozens of bright, shining faces beaming up at me while I tell them Ramadan stories, I can’t put into words the feeling I get of how that dream of children coming in throngs to the mosque for their own special activities has been fulfilled by Allah.
I would like to end with some trivia- how many times have I used the word ‘mosque’ in this article? Phew!
You can follow the library’s Facebook page here.