The book takes place in the library in Alexandria, Egypt. The library is a symbol of Egypt, as a leader in the acquisition of knowledge for millennia, and as a symbol of freedom of thought. It was built on the site of an ancient library that held much of the wisdom of the world 1500 years ago and earlier.
The narrator is a library worker who joins the protests of January 2011. She describes how a multitude of angry protestors approached the library. Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the library’s director, steps outside the library to remind the protestors of the library’s frailty and of its treasures. One by one, young people join him in creating a human chain around the building to protect it from some of the angry protestors. They unfurl a giant Egyptian flag on its steps and their joy is contagious.
Background material at the end of the book includes information about the artwork and graphic motifs in the book, the history of the library, protest-sign translations and photographs of the recent events in Egypt.
Hands Around the Library has been translated into Arabic and published in Arabic by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (The Alexandria Library), Alexandria, Egypt.