Monday, February 12, 2007

Library in a Battle Zone

The battle to keep some semblance of normalcy in a corner of the world gone mad is chronicled in the diary entries of the director of Iraq’s National Library and Archive in Baghdad, Saad Eskander.

Saad is struggling to keep the central library open and replace the rare books and documents that have been destroyed despite:
... bombings, blockades, shootings, threats, shortages and petty frustrations that make up everyday life.
The diary is now available online via the British Library website, reports Patricia Cohen in the New York Times. Here's just a few of the things he has had to contend with:
As he wrote in his latest entry, he was having trouble repairing the Internet system; the Restoration Laboratory “was hit by 5 bullets”; and “another librarian, who works at the Periodical Department, received a death threat. He has to leave his house and look for another one, as soon as he can; otherwise, he will be murdered.”
A single poignant story that represents the whole mess that is Iraq.

Update (10/6/08) :
I want to make the library a democratic model of how Iraq should be. From the start I hired Sunnis, Kurds, Shias, women, men. The national library must be a place - perhaps even the most important place - where Iraqis from many different groups come together." He claims to have paid special attention to women's rights.
Saad Eskanderhas more to say about running his library in heart-breaking timees in this interview by Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian.


Ruhayat said...

To have a great library sacked once in a nation/civilisation's proud history is bad enough, but Baghdad had to endure it twice in recorded memory. Like I said, the flowing river of time is just an illusion to make us believe in progress when in truth we've been jogging on the spot all the time.

You've been reading the Riverbend blogs all this while too, correct? Amazing how she writes as if bombs exploding are about as annoying as the washing machine backing up.

Like Saad, the girl is trying very hard to maintain a sense of "normalcy" in the most appalling circumstances. I'm sure someone will come along any moment now and ask "what is normal, anyway?" and then start pointing out that it is in fact relative etc etc.

I think we humans as a species are just plain psychotic.

fei said...

I once watched a film by Jean Luc Godard, called Notre Musique, featuring a bombed library in sarajevo. There was a table in the middle of the room, books all piled up like piles of clothes in a warehouse sale shop. When a reader return a book, the librarian(?) will threw the book to the piles.

This images srtuck me so deeply, I felt like this is the demolition of a civilization.

How could people possibly burn books? That's why I like Truffaut's 'Fahrenheit 415' so much(I haven't read Bradbury's book), although it doesn't seem like Truffaut's best work.

Anonymous said...


We have now posted Dr Eskander’s journal entries for 1-14 February to the British Library website. Dr Eskander’s diary erntry for 8 February is particularly disturbing - a reminder to us of the dreadful situation our professional colleagues in Baghdad are experiencing as they do their jobs.

Best wishes
Andy Stephens, Secretary to the British Library Board