The Sharjah International Book Fair opens tomorrow, November 4, and will run for 10 days. It will be a hybrid virtual and live event, and is among the few in-person book fairs to take place since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This year's fair will feature exhibits from 1,024 publishers from 73 countries offering some 80,000 titles for sale at the Sharjah Expo Center. Visitors to the fair grounds must register in advance and are given a limited window of time to browse the exhibits and shop.

The theme of this year's event is "The World Reads from Shajrah" and the fair is offering 64 virtual events, featuring 60 Arab and international authors from 19 countries. Among those speaking are Prince Ea and Robert Kiyoaski from the United States, Neil Pasricha and Najwa Zebian from Canada, and Ian Rankin from the U.K. Middle Eastern notables include Wasini al-A'raj from Algeria, Ahmed Mourad of Egypt, and Mishel Hamad from Kuwait.

Professional days

The public fair was preceded by three professional days, which offered seminars, networking and a rights center. The professional days are a key feature of the fair for the international community and the fair is generous in its support, paying to fly in hundreds of agents, rights directors and publishers. Typically, there would be between 300-400 attendees, but the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed travel from many parts of the world, and the event was this year limited to less than 100 participants, with only a few dozen coming from outside the region.

Among those who traveled to Sharjah was Gvantsa Jobava, deputy chairperson of the Georgian Publishers Association, who took part in a panel with Judith Curr, president and publisher of Harper One, who presented virtually, to discuss using digital tools to connect in the time of Covid. "It was really interesting because it was a hybrid event, with in-person discussions and virtual events," Jobava told PW. "I hadn't been to a book fair since March and it was very good to know that even though there's a pandemic, publishing goes on -- there are new titles to see and buy. The important thing was that we had a chance for personal meetings and it gave me the feeling that life goes on, publishing will go on." Other panels covered dealing with book piracy, the pandemic, remote learning, and publishing in Africa.

Emma House, of the Oreham Group, a cultural consulting company, traveled from the U.K. "It was a great experiment to show how things can be done to provide a hybrid conference," House told PW. "All sessions had participants who had sent in a pre-recorded pieces or were 'zoomed' in. It was also inspiring that delegates travelled from as far as Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, and many other countries to attend. Whilst the business meetings were not hybrid and were reserved for those who actually attended, it certainly demonstrated an appetite for and willingness to attend a physical event, in another country." Safety precautions included mandatory masks and all delegates had to take a Covid-19 test to enter the country and one to leave the country.

Library conference

In the midst of the fair will be the seventh Sharjah International Library Conference, which runs from November 10-12. With the theme "Challenges faced by librarians and libraries during the New Normal," the conference will offer a dozen speakers on its program of events. Librarians will be attending virtually. In all, 550 librarians are registered from 44 different countries. "The conference using the PubMatch platform, which can be used to arrange meetings and conversation, will allow attendees to browse some of the 2,300 titles that have been uploaded by more than 82 exhibitors from 20 countries," said Jon Malinowski of the Combined Book Exhibit, one of the organizers.

Download the SIBF magazine

Publishers Weekly and BookBrunch produced a magazine for the professional days and library conference, which you can read online. It features articles on Sharjah's support for African publishing, the SIBF translation program, children's book publishing in India, interviews with global publishing executives on their relationship with the Arabic-language book world, the book publishing markets in the U.A.E., U.K. and the U.S., and a long look at the impact of the August Beirut port explosion on publishing in Lebanon. Download it here.