"Books have been my teachers, my solace and friends in my darkest hours."
- Mr. Abdul Razak Al Khumairi
ABU DHABI // A cardboard box delivered to the library where Abdul Razak Al Khumairi worked almost 30 years ago changed his life.
Inside were several books written in Farsi.
Mr Al Khumairi happened to be the only person on staff who could read the language.
"I come from a merchant family where we all spoke and read the important merchant languages of Farsi, Urdu and English," said the Emirati, now 57.
He sorted, archived and shelved those 15 or so Iranian books, and he has been shelving ever since.
And although his formal education ended with Grade 4, Mr Al Khumairi's love of the job and the fact that he is one of few Emirati librarians made him a perfect fit for the UAE and Arabian Gulf Library that opened to the public this month.
"Oh, I know people think it is the most unprestigious job out there, but to me it is the most rewarding as books have been my teachers, my solace and friends in my darkest hours," he said.
"They have given me a second chance in life."
Mr Al Khumairi has worked in various libraries, including the one at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation.
"Cataloguing, indexing and shelving is an art; it is not just a matter of putting a book on a shelf," he said.
Across the street from the Abu Dhabi Corniche, in the building that houses RAKbank, the library has more than 15,000 books - 5,000 in English - with information on many topics related to the Emirates and the rest of the Gulf.
Mr Al Khumairi's enthusiasm is hard to miss. He beams whenever he sees a visitor, particularly one who approaches him with a question.
"Unfortunately, the questions are often about internet access," he said, laughing. "The internet is a curse in many ways. It is killing our Arabic language and has made people too lazy to go check out a book for information."
At the opening ceremony for the library, Jumaa Al Qubaisi, the director of the National Library of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Tourism and Culture, said this branch was part of a strategy to boost readers' knowledge of the UAE and the region's heritage.
"Other goals include the documentation of books and sources about Emirati history, and the providing of a suitable environment for both researchers and history enthusiasts," Mr Al Qubaisi said.
Despite the National Library's goals, Mr Al Khumairi has seen the number of library visitors dwindling over the years. Researchers are the most frequent visitors, and there are a handful of students, mainly girls.
He hasn't seen many boys in the library for the past decade or so.
"It is a shame but hopefully things are changing now, with parents realising the importance of having their boys read books outside of school," Mr Al Khumairi said.
On a recent afternoon there was only one female student in the library. She was the fifth student to visit that day, and her visit had more to do with the "ambience" of the library than the books.
"It is the quietist place in the entire of Abu Dhabi, where you can sit and do your work peacefully," said Fatima Mohammed, 18, who had her laptop with her.
"I love this place. It is the best place to concentrate," Ms Mohammed said, adding she planned to bring a group of fellow students to the library during exam time.
But despite an overall decline of visitors to libraries, Mr Al Khumairi believes they will outlive "new gimmicks and electronic toys".
"Parents need to come to the library with their kids. That will change everything," he said, fondly recalling a frequent childhood image of his mother with a book, sitting across the kitchen while the food was cooking.
Mr Al Khumairi's journey into the world of books followed some difficulties.
When his family business hit a hard time, the father of five girls and two boys worked odd jobs, including a stint as a driver for a VIP. Eventually, he landed a job among his cherished "square and rectangular-shaped family members".
"Early in the mornings, whenever the library was empty, I would sit with a pile of books and take my time reading through them until I became fluent," he recalled.
"By the turn of a page I would disappear into the world of words and imagination. I would become a poet, or a pirate, or even an old general.
"I can't imagine life without the touch and smell of a book."
The UAE and Arabian Gulf Library is open weekdays from 8am to 4pm, with hours to extend in future. For more information, call 02-6515464.