Meet The Man Rescuing Cairo's Vanishing Libraries
Tucked away in Maadi's Bardo Clubhouse, The Vanished Library has anything from antique books to donated comics. All ready to find a new home.
Stories of millennials following their passions and working in fields they've actually chosen for themselves often inspire us to do the same. Even if just for a weekend. This is the story of a man who, as rare as that sounds, is passionate about books and has managed to make a living out of it. He's passionate about reading them, collecting them, and even restoring them.
After not having seen him around for a while, I'd caught up with Omar Amin about a year ago in Dahab. We talked about our passions and lack there of. He proceeded to tell me about in the trunk in his car full of old books. How it's amazing how a bunch of papers bound together can hold such immense value attached to them. How that value we can attribute to books can often stem from our own individual experiences. And how Ghaddafi's Green Book is a fucking insane read.
Forward to a year later... Omar Amin, who'd been planning to start The Vanished Library for some time, now finally has a space for it. Starting with a humble shelf at Bardo Clubhouse where people can "take a book, leave a book", Amin now has a full on shop on the ground floor of Bardo. I made my way to Maadi to see how it was going and perhaps even browse through the Green Book. I found Amin carefully restoring a book from the year 1909. Something about anatomy, I believe. He tells me the model of the library is still the same. "It's still based on donations. You can donate entire old libraries or just old school books,", he says. These books are restored if need be. Sorted through then either added to the library to find new homes or donated to children in orphanages, schools, and institutes where they're most needed.
And as for the glass shelves on the wall, that's where universally valued fins are kept. I'm talking first edition Harry Potter books. Kafka books that are nearly a century old. Books I was basically afraid to touch. Amin is an avid collector. So he'll go antiquing and building on his already rich library. And at this point I'm left wondering how does one even learn to restore books?
The Vanished Library is also a place were you can find Amin's own "antique trinket" finds up for sale. The library looked like it was from a whole other era. Like a celebration our shared history. I picked up a little poster from the 1950s that was surprisingly, and refreshingly, ahead of its time. It had a man and woman in bed and a caption that read something like "Why are you treating me like your wife?". That was all the reading I was prepared to do. But it didn't stop me from getting my Bardo Clubhouse coffee and taking it to the Vanished Library's terrace. Amin, with the enthusiasm of a true librarian, tells me how he's the "book hunter". His customers often ask him about a book they want, or an edition they're looking for. He then looks for it, or waits till it falls in his lap, or even sifts through his private (massive) collection to locate it and notifies them.
When you visit The Vanished Library, you can bring your old books with you and replace them other old books. One man's old read is another's treasure. You can also browse the library's many other finds. You can bring granny's old books for restoration. Amin will even come over to properly, sort through, pack, and transport your books to maintain their condition. And you can (and should) donate books to children who need them. Remember when Susan Mubarak wanted everyone to read? It's a little that but sexier.
Follow or contact The Vanished Library here to help start new libraries.