In the days following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraq National Library and Archive was burned and looted. What was lost forever can scarcely be imagined, but only estimated. Yet it was not just the National Library that was torched: the Central al-Awqaf Library, the House of Wisdom, the Iraqi Academy of Sciences and dozens of other libraries across Iraq -- all suffered terrible losses:
All of the 45,000 books, including Ottoman manuscripts and a collection of rare medical texts, were burnt [and] the US military bears responsibility for the destruction of another 1,744 manuscripts. These had been removed before the fire and placed under armed guard at the Qadiriyya Mosque complex. Operating under a policy to shoot armed Iraqis on sight, US forces killed the guard on April 13. The al-Awqaf staff returned these manuscripts to the library, now unguarded because of the American 'rules of engagement.' These manuscripts were either looted or incinerated ... the entire collection of 175,000 books and manuscripts at the library of the University of Baghdad's College of Arts was reduced to ashes....The whole principal library of the University of Basra [was] incinerated.
Since 2003 the staff of the National Library have struggled to rebuild the collection, but with Iraq now immersed in civil war the Library's director is shutting its doors, as they can longer endure the dangers to the building and its staff, some of whom have been murdered. According to Jeffrey B. Spurr, (Islamic and Middle East Specialist, Architecture & Fine Arts Library, at Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum):
[the] institution had been bombed thrice in three weeks, and subjected to sniper fire, including directly into his own office. Another young librarian was recently murdered, and the building had been shelled several times in the few days previous to the closing (by which I assume he meant mortar fire).
[Library Director] Dr. Eskander has been a model of progressive action, has increased his staff substantially, and has striven very hard to gain them training on several fronts, and otherwise restore functioning to an institution that was twice set on fire during the initial period of American occupation. Prompted by a question from me concerning how he was managing to keep such a large staff coming to work under such perilous circumstances, he informed me last spring that he was dedicating 30% of his budget to bussing them all back and forth each day, although three of his drivers had been murdered in the process.
However necessary, this was financially untenable as a long-term accommodation to the exigencies of the times. As we all know, the situation has only grown worse since then, and the repeated direct attacks on his institution made it a place he could no longer ask his staff to serve. The forces of intolerance are thriving, and those institutions and persons representing a progressive and hopeful future for Iraq are under assault and in retreat.
Humanity can ill-afford such losses. The fires of Iraq's libraries must cause us to doubt the durability of the project of civilization. Even as libraries may be able to help preserve wisdom, liberties and the social bonds of community, they can only endure so long in their absence. The tragedy of Iraq -- the cradle of civilization -- is ours as well.
Congratulations to fourth-year geography student Jhonnathan Menjivar, winner and proud new owner of an iPod Nano. Jhonnathan was one of nearly 400 University of Winnipeg students who participated in the Library's Wireless Network Survey and whose name was selected in a random draw.
We would like to thank everyone who participated in the survey and who shared their comments and suggestions.
The Library will be closed for the holiday from December 21, 2006 - January 1, 2007. Regular hours will resume on January 2.
Have a happy holiday!
Owing to the slowdown in use over December, we will be temporarily suspending evening hours for the IUS Library. For the next two weeks -- until we close on December 21st -- we will be open from 8:30 - 4:30, Monday to Friday.
I apologize for any inconvenience; if you need materials outside these hours we can try to make other arrangements -- just email Michael Dudley, IUS Research Associate.