Middle East Librarians Association
Committee on Iraqi Libraries

Indispensable yet Vulnerable: The Library in Dangerous Times. A Report on the Status of Iraqi Academic Libraries and a Survey of Efforts to Assist Them, with Historical Introduction

By Jeff Spurr, Harvard University



The purpose of this report on Iraqi libraries is to provide an accurate assessment of the status of Iraqi academic libraries in the post-Saddam, post-invasion, post-looting period. It is not a comprehensive, on-the-ground survey, pieces of which have been accomplished elsewhere. I have referenced those field reports that provide some of the evidence for the libraries' condition. I also describe the work and, where possible, the perspectives of the primary actors concerned with these institutions and their rehabilitation, whether Iraqi or non-Iraqi. Finally, I describe and attempt to assess the various initiatives, underway or planned, designed to actively assist in the rebuilding process, and to look at that process in more global terms. In so doing, I highlight the lack of care and effectiveness on the part of international bodies (e.g., IFLA, UNESCO), and US governmental entities in publicizing, coordinating, funding, and instrumentalizing aspects of that rehabilitation. None have risen to the occasion at a time of desperate need. I have meant not simply to point these failures out, but to exhort the US government and its most salient organs to act in a more provident, sustained, sensitive and committed way to achieve the redevelopment of Iraqi academic libraries in as short an order as possible. Finally, it is my intention to make clear that all Iraqi academic institutions would help themselves if they would overcome parochial concerns and engage in cooperation in terms of infrastructure development, achieving interconnectivity, and collaboration amongst their administrations and staffs.

The extended introduction is an effort to address the critical role libraries have played in history, with a particular nod to Iraq, and to emphasize that a flourishing and developing society has always been one that privileged libraries since the dawn of civilization, despite destructive and totalitarian episodes. Finally, that despite their importance, such critical cultural institutions have been especially vulnerable when power has been exercised arbitrarily, or when those seeking it have resorted to violent means to achieve their ends.


The current fraught and muddled situation in Iraq has typically been addressed at a level of abstraction that provides little access to the reality of life in Iraq in all of its dimensions, and the experiences and feelings of those who must cope with degrees of trauma and disarray that make what Americans faced after 9/ll pale by comparison. Among these dimensions is the fate of institutions crucial to a viable future for Iraq and its people. These include the Iraq National Library and Archive, other major archives, and the twenty universities, at the core of which are the libraries that should serve their faculty and students. For Iraq to have a future it must have thriving institutions of higher education and a necessary condition for that is adequate, functioning libraries. Before I proceed to the specific topic of Iraqi libraries and archives, their vicissitudes, present circumstances, and efforts underway to ameliorate them, I would like to establish a context for viewing this question.

The building of a library is a fundamental gesture of hope, if not in the perfectibility of humankind, at least in its mission to affirm and make accessible the legacy of scholars, researchers and creative minds of the past and present, and the capacity of that legacy to inform, guide and inspire the future, and thus to advance the prospects of all individuals and society as a whole. Even in the age of the Internet, no serious education--particularly higher education--is possible without adequate libraries. Those who do not have such access for whatever reason are condemned to the most limited purchase on the possibilities that the world has to offer.

Mesopotamia, the land of the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the site of present-day Iraq, is the source of cultural traditions that linger till today. The flood of Noah finds its first description in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the third millennium text which is the first great work of world literature that has been passed down to us. Although many libraries certainly preceded it, the largest early library to survive essentially intact was that established by the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 BCE) at Nineveh, *1 whence comes the longest extant text of the Gilgamesh story. At as many as 30,000 tablets, the library was carefully laid out in a series of rooms and organized by subject matter: history, government, religion, poetry, astronomy, the reports of spies, and so on. It survived due to the destruction of the palace by invaders, a fate more readily borne by clay than the organic matter used in other literary traditions.

In 762 CE, the Caliph al-Mansur of the recently ascendant 'Abbasid Dynasty, rulers of the central Islamic empire, founded his new capital city at Baghdad. In 832, his great grandson, al-Ma'mun, established the Bayt al-Hikma, the "House of Wisdom". *2 This institution became a repository for work that had been underway for some decades, certainly since the time of al-Ma'mun's father, the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, namely, the translation of the critical Greek texts of philosophy and science into Arabic. The Bayt al-Hikma thus became the greatest library and academy of the age, a successor to the Library in Alexandria, the classical world's greatest repository of knowledge, which had suffered destruction and dispersal in stages over several centuries. An observatory was built adjacent to it, and the House of Wisdom became a magnet for brilliant scholars from the length and breadth of the Islamic world.

Although the Bayt al-Hikma became embroiled in intense cultural contestation fueled by religious reaction, mirrored in contemporary trends here in the United States with the rise of creationism and opposition to stem-cell research, a tradition of research and inquiry was established which resulted in the advancement of such fields as astronomy, optics, physics and mathematics, among others, including the work of al-Khwarizmi, the father of algebra (named after his book, Kitab al-Jabr). Much of this learning, inherited and newly-developed, was ultimately transmitted to Europe, mired in the Dark Ages when the House of Wisdom was founded, principally through Spain and Sicily.

This long and fruitful episode in cultural history came to a close with the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 CE, which, though not as absolute as the destruction of some cities further east, led to the dumping of the contents of its great libraries, unequalled elsewhere, into the Tigris. Hence developed the story that the river ran black from the ink of the countless texts lost in this manner, while the streets ran red with the blood of the city's slaughtered inhabitants. In any event these vivid images provide a link to a basic fact: human life is of the greatest importance, but human lives bereft of the culture that confers meaning and excellence on them are incalculably diminished. Furthermore, those who are inclined to kill peoples often target their libraries as well.

A dark impulse runs through society and the human heart. Freud dealt with this in his twinned concepts of Eros and Thanatos. It finds its greatest outlet in times of conflict, when the creative and intellectual work of ages may be put to the torch in an instant. This was a particularly grievous possibility in the age of the handwritten manuscript, when it was possible to extinguish a whole tradition. One who attempted this was the Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi (Chin Shih Huang-ti), who consolidated all of China into one dominion for the first time. It is surrounding his incomparable tomb that thousands of life-size clay statues have been discovered. The Chin emperor ordered that all texts not on practical subjects be burnt in 213 CE, as part of his effort to rationalize the empire and establish absolutism. He wished to banish religious and philosophical disputation just as readily as he had abolished feudalism in favor of bureaucratic management of the state. The Mongols, largely illiterate, were engaged in destroying a system rather than building a new one. Nevertheless, the results are quite similar and both involve disregard for the written text as a repository of cultural riches of inherent value.

Indeed, absolutist and essentializing impulses in politics are the very enemy of creativity, critical thinking, intellectual endeavor and the books that are their products. Such attitudes are almost always wedded to one degree or another with the drive to power. Sadly, the century that just closed was a time when such dark impulses thrived to a frightful degree, as the three broad political conceptions of early modernity were born: communism, fascism (and its local variety, Nazism), and nationalism. Each in its way encouraged a radical simplifying of the messy and complex realities that were the societies they inherited. The Nazi book burning is the most famous; however, although Hitler and his minions sponsored all manner of focused book burnings; they also came up with the concept of total war, a notion dire in its implications that his allied opponents also embraced, to their eternal shame. Thus the piecemeal assaults on civilian populations and the cultural institutions which embellish and define civil life that had been a by-product of WWI, became a principal feature of war strategy on both sides when cities became prime targets, whether promulgated by Hermann Goering, Prime Minister Tojo or Bomber Harris.

Although WWII provides an endless litany of cultural losses of every description, it was an event in the university town of Louvain, Belgium, *3 at the very outset of WWI that prefigured much to come in a terrible century. After a minor instance of local resistance to German occupation on the 25th of August, 1914, the German authorities undertook savage reprisals with the considered intent of cowing the citizenry of Belgium. Scores of citizens of all descriptions were summarily shot, numerous public and university buildings were destroyed. This orgy of destruction culminated with oil being poured into the basement of the university's late Gothic library, famous for its collections of incunabula (books printed before the year 1500), and original manuscripts. Everything was consumed in the resulting fire.

In a world not yet inured to them, near universal revulsion was the response to these atrocities. Initiated by President A Lawrence Lowell of Harvard, an international Louvain Book Fund was established almost immediately. Furthermore, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 stipulated that German war reparations were to include 10,000,000 francs for the rebuilding of Louvain's library, and Germany's own libraries were compelled to compensate for the loss of the rarest materials by donating the equivalent from their collections. This sort of immediate response and concerted action was, sadly, not to prove a model for the future. Indeed, the Nazis, upon occupying Belgium in 1940, destroyed the library all over again, a certain sign of the ruthlessness that would mark their every move.

In Clausewitz' famous aphorism, war is described as an extension of politics by other means, but in most cases it would seem truer to say that, in the era of the modern nation-state, war is the product of failed politics, whether the failure of cooler heads to prevail in the lead up to WWI, of the European powers and England to face down Hitler and support Czechoslovakia, or the successors to Tito to work out an acceptable system of governance or to deal with growing nationalist extremism in constructive ways. And war is the great cultural destroyer, directly or indirectly. Whatever the proximate causes of cultural calamities such as the devastation or destruction of libraries on a wide scale, they may be broadly seen as a consequence of political failures, wherever they have occurred.

My personal involvement with libraries commenced with the wars of Yugoslavia's dissolution, most particularly the war of aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina launched by Serb nationalists in April 1992. In ex-Yugoslavia, a sclerotic regime fell by its own weight. Civil society and alternative political parties having been unable to thrive under the heavy hand of the communist state, rabid nationalism tendentiously linked to religion occupied the vacuum. The modern history of Bosnia-Herzegovina actually commenced with a political success--the reasonably peaceful transfer of what had once been a favored province of the Ottoman empire to the Austro-Hungarian empire by treaty in 1878. Its distinctive multicultural/multi-confessional character was the legacy of those vanished empires, spared the destructive wars of national formation that had marked much of the rest of the Balkans. In 1992 it fell victim to the lust for power on the part of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and, a year later, of Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, and the essentializing ideologies mobilized by them that found the Bosnian melting pot an affront to their aggressive, simplifying programs and a temptation to their desire for larger territories. Those with no compunctions concerning mass murder and expulsion of populations did not shrink from targeting the cultural institutions that represented all that they anathematized.

Although a large number of smaller private and institutional libraries were destroyed in the war against Bosnia, the latter frequently associated with mosques and monasteries, the worst destruction occurred in Sarajevo during the longest siege in modern history. The fate of the National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo was sealed on August 25, 1992, seventy-eight years to the day after the destruction of the Louvain library. Serb nationalist forces fired incendiary phosphorus shells at the grand and elegant stained-glass skylight over the atrium of the Vijecnica, the splendid Moorish-revival building that had been founded under Austrian rule as the seat of government and transformed into the National Library after WWII. The ensuing conflagration was unstoppable. Although a significant number of rare manuscripts and books were salvaged by the staff under daunting conditions (and collections of tertiary value, stored off site, were spared), some ninety percent of the library's contents were consumed, including as many as 1,500,000 volumes, numerous special collections, the greatest collection of Bosnian periodical literature since its beginnings in the nineteenth century, and the archives of the various ethnic and cultural societies that had been consolidated there at the time of the library's establishment. The Vijecnica itself survived as a shell, its fine marble revetments burnt to lime, its lovely rooms laid waste.

The loss of the National and University Library was neither the first nor the last outrage against culture in that war. Serb nationalist forces had shelled and destroyed the collections of Sarajevo's Oriental Institute that May, with a loss of about 5,600 original manuscripts, and six faculty libraries of the University of Sarajevo were destroyed and another four severely damaged during the course of the siege. Similarly, Sarajevo's Municipal Public Library lost half of its 300,000 volumes and the use of its central and four branch libraries. This is not the occasion to dwell upon the response to these events in Bosnia, which I have dealt with elsewhere. *4 Suffice it to say that, after the war officially ended in Bosnia in March, 1996, no internationally coordinated initiative was undertaken to assist in the rebuilding of destroyed and damaged Bosnian libraries and their collections. Among other unfortunate efforts, one misbegotten book drive had already resulted in tens of thousands of largely useless books fetching up in a warehouse in Maribor, Slovenia while the siege still raged. In this vacuum, the Bosnia Library Project*5 was conceived in early 1996 at Harvard by Andras Riedlmayer and myself, and I became its coordinator. Its goal was to assist in the reconstruction of destroyed and damaged library collections--with a special focus on the National and University Library--and to seek any other sort of assistance that might help in their rehabilitation. I wrote the project's final report*6 in February, 2005.

However, I learned on the 15th of November of a terrible, long-term but direct consequence of the subversion of Bosnian national sovereignty instituted by the Dayton Accords, which rewarded the nationalists for making war by, in effect, cutting the republic in twain and setting up a system whereby power devolved to the cantons and municipalities. This undermined the constituency for all old national institutions and commitment to their funding; parochialism triumphed. The National Museum in Sarajevo closed its doors in October, and the National and University Library was forced by budgetary cuts to do the same. This is a shameful event arising not simply out of the outrages committed by extremists but by the lack of moral clarity and effective action on the part of the great powers and the international community when dealing with the fates of peoples and nations. A library whose doors are shut is of little more use to its community than one destroyed altogether. Under pressure from a Europe and the Office of the High Representative, the Museum and Library were provided just enough funding (but by the Canton of Sarajevo), to reopen for the near term, but with no certain funding for the future and grossly inadequate to sustain a viable institution and adequate staffing. However, the National and University Library faces an another sort of peril at present: from the Americans. *7


In Iraq, an inherently undemocratic system created under the conditions of colonialism, resulting from the betrayal of Arab aspirations inspired by the events of WWI, led in an unhappy dynamic fueled by ideology and grievance steadily downhill to the Ba'ath (meaning "rebirth) regime, which seized power in a 1963 coup. Subsequently, Saddam Hussein's decades of despotic rule extinguished virtually all vestiges of civil society, leaving the great majority of the citizens not altogether criminalized by life in such a state largely to the refuge of family and religion.

It has been said that as Saddam Hussein's megalomania triumphed, virtually nothing could happen in the whole country without his say-so. In such an atmosphere, initiative and risk taking were largely extinguished in favor of timeserving or the exercise of the most neutral of technocratic expertise. Far worse, the dictator's obsession with maximizing military power and catastrophic attacks on the neighboring nations of Iran and, later, Kuwait resulted in the disappearance of funds for cultural and educational institutions, particularly libraries. Where Iraqi higher education had been universally acknowledged as a model of development from the 1950s through 1970s, everything changed when Saddam initiated the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, which soon proved to be a fearful and immensely costly struggle leading to stalemate and lasting until 1988. Unlike the previous generation, promising students ceased being sent abroad to the US and the UK for their higher degrees, and funds dried up for purchases of books and journal subscriptions from Europe and the US. Furthermore, where English language instruction had been the standard in Iraqi higher education since the founding of the University of Baghdad, in a fateful 1982 edict, the Arabization of Iraqi education was prescribed, with dire consequences for a generation or more of Iraqi students. The general level of English competence declined, and, for many, English language texts became essemtially inaccessible even when available. The news is that a re-emphasis on English-language instruction is underway as a means of improving access to important academic literature and regaining lost intellectual advantage.

A miscalculation equal to underestimating the revolutionary regime in Iran led to the attempt to annex Kuwait in 1990. The Gulf War damage and the comprehensive sanctions imposed by the 1991 UN embargo dispensed with what little foreign contact Iraqi universities and their libraries had had with the outside world in the 1980s, for now it was a legal as well as a financial issue, compounded by the fact that Saddam preferred to rebuild his 36 palaces rather than contribute, for example, either to cultural institutions or to insuring the health of his people. The whole library profession became slowly deprofessionalized as faculty lost contact with new developments, particularly in automation, and as talented professionals--as happened across academia and the professions--chose to move abroad. With recent contacts, it has been widely observed that professionals aged forty-five and above are typically very competent in English while their younger counterparts, despite ostensibly having received much or most of their education in English, are often not up to par. This in itself poses a challenge to current efforts to provide advanced training in librarianship as well as in other fields.

The recent invasion, itself a breach of trust with the American nation by the Bush administration, based on false if not altogether falsified information, uncertain motives and misperceived ends, and representing the most dramatic failure of the international system in fifty years, created a vacuum of power when it toppled the Iraqi regime. Fatally, the occupiers failed to impose their authority immediately. Utter chaos was the inevitable and predictable result, with those criminally inclined (whether calculating or opportunistic) stealing everything in sight, looting virtually every significant cultural and governmental institution outside of Iraqi Kurdistan--including university libraries--of everything of perceived value down to the copper wiring.

This had been predicted. In 1991, the rebellion in Southern Iraq encouraged by George H.W. Bush had precipitated a lapse of the characteristic social control imposed by Saddam's regime. This provided an opening for large-scale looting, including of several provincial museums, while others were engaged in the revolt. As is now well known, The US State Department had numerous task forces undertaking planning for the aftermath of the invasion. It is a doubly sad commentary that not only were these cast aside when the Pentagon asserted its control over the process at the expense of State, but that the only task force never convened was that addressing cultural patrimony. When Army Chief of Staff Shinseki counseled the need for several hundred thousand troops to secure postwar Iraq, he was disparaged in public by Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon officials and shunted aside. He was right.

With the events of 1991 in mind--and a multitude of other past events of looting in the absence of authority that could have been invoked--a number of archaeologists and other scholars of the Middle East repeatedly warned the Defense Department of the necessity of securing culturally important sites. Furthermore, Hague Conventions address the issue of responsibility for cultural heritage. Both ICOM, the International Council of Museums, and the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and other organizations warned in advance of the consequences of war. On 14 April 2003, referencing an earlier statement of 25 February, ICOM specifically declared, "In the 'Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict', drawn up in The Hague, 14 May 1954, and entered in force 7 August 1956, Paragraph I. 'General provisions regarding protection', Article 4. 'Respect for cultural property' section 3 reads: 'The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party.' ICOM-CC will hold all so-called Coalition Force Partners accountable for looting and damage to cultural property in Iraq". *8

Although the United States and the United Kingdom are among the rare non-signatories to this and related conventions concerning cultural property, Iraq is a signatory and, as the British authority, Patrick Boylan, has pointed out, in comments to the ICOM discussion list, "the Convention applies to the territory, (the 'lex situs'rule under both international and national law) and arguably therefore to everyone within the territory and all actions by them regardless of their nationality." He goes on to state that the US State and Defense Departments recommended ratification in 1996 and the UK declared its intention to do so in 1999. Furthermore, Boylan notes, "The publicly stated policy of both the USA and the UK is to comply with the principles of the Hague Convention even though neither country is yet formally a party to it." *9

In a similar vein, The International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) made a declaration on 7 March stating, among other things that, in the event of war in Iraq,

"The ICBS believes that access to authentic cultural heritage is a basic human right. Damage to, and destruction of, cultural heritage represents an impoverishment, not only of the cultural life of the community directly concerned, but of humanity as a whole. This belief is expressed in several international conventions. Iraq is universally recognized to be especially rich in cultural heritage. The area is often described as the 'cradle of civilisation'. The loss of parts of that heritage would certainly represent a loss to all the peoples of the world.... In the aftermath of any war in Iraq, the ICBS calls upon all governments in a position to act to provide the necessary resources, human and financial, to assess the damage caused by the conflict to cultural heritage and to implement plans for the necessary repairs and restoration. In the case of looting of cultural property, detailed plans by trained experts should be prepared for the repatriation or restitution of the property concerned, with the involvement of Iraqi scholars and heritage professionals." *10

The warnings went unheeded. Pace apologists such as Daniel Pipes who wish only to blame the Iraqis themselves, it is my opinion that those in charge of coalition troops and their civilian overseers are responsible for acts of criminal negligence of historic proportions. The well-known fact that American troops were deployed to protect the Ministry of Oil demonstrates that museums, libraries, other ministries and institutions could have been similarly protected. It would have been even more readily accomplished if adequate numbers of troops, plus those trained in policing activities, were committed. In an astonishing example of magical thinking, the planning went into the war of conquest, not its aftermath. While the looting was just beginning, I was watching CNN coverage of American soldiers wandering through one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad and, as the reporter coyly put it, "taking souvenirs". So, 'our boys' were contributing to the problem rather than helping to suppress it. However one wishes to explain the ensuing social chaos psycho-social terms, it is simply no surprise that all hell was liable to break loose when a repressive, totalitarian regime was toppled after 24 years of ever greater privation for the bulk of the populace. This orgy of looting unleashed in Iraq in the absence of any authority willing to stop it was all pervasive outside Kurd-held territories in the North. It also provided cover for those anxious to remove or torch incriminating records, although the vast majority of government documents that were not lost to the aerial bombing of ministries and Ba'ath party establishments remained to be claimed by all manner of groups, some quite legitimate, some less so, but none formally a part of the provisional government, in a free-for-all which is still underway, although the latest news is that the Iraq Memory Foundation, *11 led by Kanan Makiya and Hassan Mneimneh is receiving progressively greater support and recognition in both Iraq and Washington.


Between June and November 2003 several reports commenced the process of assessing the damage to and status of Iraqi cultural and educational institutions, including libraries and archives. While varying in focus, scope, specificity and quality, these reports did provide a depressing picture of the dismal state of the libraries and of how much was yet to be learned about their condition and the status of their holdings in specific terms. These reports may be accessed at the Middle East Librarians Association website in the section dedicated to the MELA Committee on Iraqi Libraries. *12 Of those available, four are the most interesting: *13

Alongside these are, among others, two more specific reports:

The aims and scope of these reports vary. Nabil al-Tikriti, who got there first, was a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago who acted on his own initiative and produced a very competent survey of the situation in Baghdad, including some secondary institutions and minor collections, with more cursory reports for institutions elsewhere. That of the Library of Congress, although more detailed, only addressed the National Library and Archives, the ex-Saddam House of Manuscripts and the al-Awqaf library, with specific recommendations. Jean-Marie Arnoult's report is somewhat more expansive in its coverage than that of the LC and also provides a series of recommendations. As its title states, Opening the Doors has other intentions, although it describes physical conditions and losses as it proceeds. Those aims are "A description of the current material and organizational condition of Iraq's intellectual and academic community; An assessment of the prevailing conditions of Iraqi cultural and intellectual life; [and] A characterization of the ongoing relationships between the Iraqi academic and intellectual community and the occupation forces/structures of governance." Consequently, it is the only one that is expressly critical of the Occupation and it is one of the first places that we get a sense of the universities as sites of contestation by the various social, religious and political forces unleashed by the overthrow of the Saddan regime. It has been very helpful to this writer.

The report on the Jewish Archive describes a complex collection of manuscripts and documents either related to Judaism or the Jewish community in Iraq, which had been sequestered in the basement of the Mukhabarat, or Security Services, and had been subjected to flooding, with a description of the preservation efforts taken.


The looting and burning of the Iraq National Library and Archives was a terrible event by any definition. A man interviewed in the remarkable documentary film, About Baghdad, created by a collaborative of Iraqis and non-Iraqis (InCounter Productions, 2004) *14, says "I kept crying when they burned the National Library. ...Wasn't that my country that they burned?" There was much to cry about; still, the news was not entirely gloomy. Although the structure of the library had been severely damaged and initially deemed a dead loss, it was eventually determined to be restorable. The initial story--still widely understood to be the case--went as follows: provident actions of staff members, who removed a large mass of archival materials, and of a Shi'ite cleric, who removed as much as 40% of the book collections and some archival documents to the Haqq Mosque for safekeeping, had insured that substantial portions of the book and archival collections were spared.  Furthermore, representatives of the Shi'ite cleric had welded shut a large steel fire door at the entrance to one wing, and all of the collections behind it remained safe. American forces had occupied Baghdad on April 8th, a first fire had been lit during the initial wave of looting on the 11th, and the much more destructive fire had been set on the 14th, with the cleric acting between the two events.  The latest word, from Dr. Saad Eskander, Director-General of the National Library and Archives since December 2003, is that as much as 60% of the Ottoman and royal Hashemite documents were lost, and many Ba'ath-era documents as well, whose presence may have been the reason for the arson.  Approximately 25% of the book collections were looted or burned, according to Dr. Eskander, but were already in a sorry state of management and lacking in recent publications.  More importantly, he has provided a more accurate chronology of events and description of actions taken.  According to him (personal communications, especially 23 July 2005), the "looters and saboteurs" entered the building on the 10th-11th and again on the 12th-13th.  The large, steel fire door was already shut, and the looters did not attempt to open it, the book stacks behind it remaining intact.  The head of the library's financial department and the cleric (Abdul Mun'm), brought a blacksmith who welded the door shut only after the acts of despoliation had occurred.  Furthermore, none of the books were removed by Abdul Mun'm for safekeeping until after the looting and burning had ended , and represented closer to 5% of the collections, not 40%.  Although a laudable effort at preserving Iraq's patrimony, this act itself had resulted in further damage given the way the books were handled and stored.

Sadly, the removed archival documents--also including important rare books--which had been placed in the basement of the General Board of Tourism, were soaked when, according to Dr. Eskander, it was deliberately flooded after looting by those committing the crime, who broke water pipes to achieve their end of obscuring what had been stolen. The soaked documents were moved thence in early autumn of 2003 to a space above ground level, where the Library of Congress mission saw them in November exhibiting "extensive and active mold growth." As first reported, some weeks thereafter they were finally placed in three large freezers where they await conservation. The truth of the matter was otherwise, according to a Dutchman, Major Drs. Rene Teijgeler (also spelled Teygeler), himself a highly experienced conservation scientist, who became the Senior Consultant for Culture attached to the Iraqi Reconstruction Management Office at the American Embassy in Baghdad (succeeding others who had worked in a similar capacity directly for the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority). He informed me (19 November 2004) that these units were in fact coolers (at 0 to +8 degrees C), not freezers, so their contents were never frozen and thus continued to deteriorate.

Another personal communication from Eskander dated 14 November 2004, indicated that he hoped to be able to send some Iraqi conservators to the Library of Congress in spring 2005 for a specialized course on deep freezing, freeze drying and defreezing and subsequent treatment protocols to preserve the archival materials.  Of course, horrendous American visa hassles afflict any Iraqi attempting to visit the US no matter what his or her bona fides.   Baghdad is one of the very largest US embassies, yet it maintained no consular service until July 2005.  Any Iraqi wishing to visit the US has had to make two death-defying visits to Amman and wait in long lines in order to get a visa, and then the process might drag on so long as to obviate the purpose of the trip, as has happened with two senior delegations of Iraqi Academics, in April 2004 and March 2005 (finally realized in July 2005).  In each case only one of a dozen or more individuals made it to Harvard. So the result has often been months of delay or no access at all. This is one of countless ways in which US policies and actions alienate Iraqis, by their insensitivity and failure to show genuine commitment to Iraqi needs.  Unfortunately, the alternative, American conservation experts coming to Baghdad, is obviated by the security situation.  The news as of 19 July 2005 was that further visa problems had delayed the visit of Iraqi conservators to Washington, and compromised prospects for future cooperation.

Teijgeler also reported that five National Library conservation staff members have received a two-month basic conservation course offered by the Czech Republic along with colleagues from the Iraq Museum, and that the Czechs have promised the same for 2005. He had just received the OK for a deep-freezing unit with which the freeze drying could be undertaken. He noted that the Italians representing the NGO Un Ponte per... (UPP) *15 were interested in an automated cataloguing system for the National Library, although this option plus proposals by OCLC (the Online Computer Library Center, see below, especially pp. 24-25 and 35-36) indicate the need for coordination of automation wherever possible so that potential integration across institutions is kept in mind (but see below).  The National Library has been offered prospects for further funding from European sources but Teijgeler was short of staff to write up project proposals.  One idea proposed in this context is the creation of a National Bibliography, another project that should be coordinated with OCLC, given its vast bibliographic resources.   Finally, Teijgeler added that the parlous state of affairs can scarcely be exaggerated, stating, "I have not been to the National Library in three weeks; it is simply too dangerous to go out in the Red Zone [from the Green Zone, containing first the CPA and now the American Embassy in one of Saddam's palace complexes and other functions of governance].  Besides, me going over there will also put the people at the library in danger.  The [head] librarian has again been threatened with death."  Teijgeler's office was understaffed and under-funded, without supplies of ready cash that could be used to acquire something as simple as book shelves for the many institutions in need of them.  Unfortunately, he left his job in Baghdad toward the end of February 2005.  The news is that he will not be replaced, a further sign of American unwillingness to take responsibility for culture, cultural institutions, and the consequences of American and allied actions jeopardizing them.


Due to generous Italian assistance, through UPP in particular, some rehabilitative work has proceeded with the collections of the National Library.  Much of the necessary work simply involves vacuuming, sorting and cataloguing.  Saad Eskander has informed Arthur Smith of OCLC that his staff has been replacing missing catalogue cards since the beginning of 2004 and automating the whole system.  They hope to have this task accomplished by the end of 2005.  The books under control of the Shi'ite cleric were returned to the custody of the National Library after some negotiation.  As of the present, the National Library has six computers with internet access, nary a one of which is available to the public.  It appears now (July 2005) as if the local government of Florence (Italy) will underwrite the costs of the Florence National Library to provide advanced training to three Iraqi book conservators, and may also support the design and development of a website for the Iraq National Library.

Dr. Eskander has pointed to the dearth of reference works and social science materials (in both English and Arabic) in the library's collections. He has given a major talk, "The Tale of Iraq's 'Cemetery of Books'", *16 outlining the circumstances of his institution and commencing with the statement, "In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the National Library and Archive (NLA) was an abandoned cemetery, void of progressive culture and critical thinking." This clear-sighted and articulate gentleman states in the next paragraph, "I also hope I can give you an honest and frank explanation of what took place in Baghdad in mid-April 2003, when most cultural institutions were looted and burnt. It was a national disaster beyond imagination." His address describes the deplorable level of functioning within the institution under the Saddam regime at some length.

Dr. Eskander describes bad blood between his institution and the CPA and the Library of Congress caused when a candidate proposed by them for his position was passed over by the Ministry of Culture in his favor. He is generally critical of the Americans for their lack of cooperation, follow-up, and concrete support, but applies similar criticism to IFLA, CPA and UNESCO, among others. On the other hand, he gives credit where it is due, including to JumpStart, " Irish-American organization. It was the first NGO which came to our rescue. It funded and supervised the project of cleaning our building from all debris and rubble." Eskander proceeds to describe his manifestly enlightened plans for reorganizing and modernizing his institution, providing for greater accountability and communication among its staff.

After some drama and uncertainty over a replacement site for the National Library and Archive (it first being allocated the Officers‚ Club, later arrogated by the Ministry of Justice for court buildings, with the Ministry of Defense reportedly interested as well), it was determined that the original site could be successfully renovated despite its lack of architectural distinction, in part, one supposes, to finesse the inevitable turf battles engendered by a move. In one personal communication (3/22/05). Dr. Eskander reported that the first two phases -- repairing the structural damage to the building and supplying it with electricity, water, elevator service, etc. -- were complete. The third phase -- an air-conditioning system, furniture, computer installations, etc. -- is to follow. He also reported, „The British Library has completed the first stage of reproducing archival materials and rare publications related to Iraq. We hope the British government will deliver its promise to finance this important project∑š. These materials comprise the records of the India Office for 1915-1921, funded by the British Embassy in Baghdad. A further 49% of the records of the Colonial Office at the UK National Archives, representing the years 1921-1934, have been copied and sent, the remaining work needing funding. This British assistance was prompted by the efforts of Mr. Joan van Albada, Secretary General of the International Council of Archives (ICA) *17, who contacted numerous national archives on behalf of the Iraq National Library and Archive.

More recently (June 2005), the Italians have re-committed themselves to support of the National Library, including training of librarians and assistance in underwriting the costs of hiring new librarians. Remarkable in this regard is that the provincial government of Lombardy (Italy) is paying the wages of 30 librarians (via Un ponte per), and are committed, in principle, to continuing this support, begun in 2004, through 2008. This demonstrates the ways in which regional as well as national governments could support critical employment requirements at numerous Iraqi institutions during this difficult, transitional period via the agency of appropriate NGOs.

Dr. Eskander reports that the National Library has succeeded in publishing the National Bibliography for the period 1996-2004 after a year‚s work. Belatedly, he heard that IFLA had dedicated $35,000 to this purpose, the first real support coming from that source. He has appealed to them to permit the use of this sum to purchase a printing press to make them self-sufficient in the publishing of annual reports, journals and successive installments of the National Bibliography. He is awaiting IFLA‚s response.

Using various sources of support, Dr. Eskander has been able to increase the size of his staff from 95 to 230, exclusive of 30 armed guards whom he has also hired, the latter a clear index of the security problems. Indeed, a car bomb blew up directly in front of the National Library in mid-July. With this significant new hiring, Eskander states, „I am relying on the new blood to modernize my institution and introduce a new culture based on transparency, taking initiatives, accepting responsibilities and constructive criticism.š


The Maktabat al-Awqaf, or Central al-Awqaf Library, supervised by the Ministry of Religious Endowments, also fared badly. It is the oldest turahi, or heritage, institution in the country and contained waqfiyyas (endowment documents), 6,500 manuscripts in all fields of knowledge, 45,000 printed books, of which 6,000 were in Ottoman script, and several special collections. 5,000 of the manuscripts, including an important collection of Korans, were saved by the staff; otherwise, everything else including all of the institution's furnishings were either systematically looted or burnt. In Zain Al-Naqshbandi's report referred to earlier, it was plaintively stated that "no party or humanitarian organization" had come to its assistance as of this June 2004.  Its present status is uncertain.

The Bayt al-Hikma, named after the House of Wisdom established by al-Ma'mun in 832, was installed as recently as 1995 in one of the rare remaining 'Abbasid structures, commonly known as the 'Abbasid Palace' although proably a madrasa, with a modern annex. Quoting Opening the Doors, "this Bayt al-Hikma functioned as a research center, with lecture facilities, publications, a library and a museum." As a favored institution of the regime in its last years, it was even more directly subject to political distortions than other principal institutions. Given this circumstance, the authors of Opening the Doors comment on the surprising fact that the Bayt al-Hikma was the very first cultural institution to receive a grant for rehabilitation from the CPA. It had been badly looted from lecture hall to library, and partially torched as well.

The best news was that the collections of the (ex-Saddam) Centre for Manuscripts in Baghdad, whose holdings comprised as many as 50,000 manuscripts collected from all over Iraq, were saved. Their loss would have been the equivalent for Iraq and its cultural heritage that the destruction of the Oriental Institute's collections was to Bosnia but at nearly ten times the number. These collections had all been stored in metal trunks in a bunker with air-conditioning, which, mercifully, had not been flooded.

In this grim situation, it could be considered promising that, given the expectations in international law concerning the responsibilities of occupying powers (Amnesty International has an excellent document on this topic on the internet), *18 the fundamental principle, "You broke it, you fix it" should apply. In that case, the primary agent of action (or, rather, inaction in failing to impose its authority after toppling a totalitarian regime) was the richest, most powerful nation on earth. In the Iraqi situation, invasion, looting and devastation all took place in a matter of weeks. The whole world was watching (unlike in the Bosnian case), even if it did not entirely understand what it was seeing. The drama of the Iraq Museum held center stage and compelled attention to the fate of cultural institutions, hence the numerous visits of foreign deputations to assess their conditions. Consequently, one would think that the possibility of well-funded, concerted action would remain reasonably high. However, press reports and personal accounts all testify to the transfer of reconstruction funds to the army of occupation to pursue the ongoing conflict. With consistent electricity, water and sewage service still to be restored (although improvement is being made slowly, despite sabotage), one cannot be particularly sanguine that reconstruction funds will be made available in any way comparable to the need, or reasonably expeditiously, the track record so far being so pitiful.


The situation at university libraries varies enormously between institutions, and from library to library within universities as well. As has already been pointed out, even surviving Iraqi library collections are woefully out of date, with often limited collections, and overused books falling apart. The newest universities had barely begun building libraries when they were looted. The effects of the looting ranged from little of the collection being stolen in Mosul to nearly the whole principal library of the University of Basra being incinerated--along with other university and municipal libraries in a city that had already suffered terribly in the Iran-Iraq War. Similarly, 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. Moreover, even in places where the book collections were largely left undisturbed, all of the furnishings were typically stripped. Rather than a detailed litany of these many local disasters, I will only address a couple.

A report, "University Life in Basra Today", *19 concerning the status of Basra University gives a vivid sense of the problem. Penned by Hamid K. Ahmed, who had studied and taught there in the 1970s and 1980s but in recent years has been a professor at Halton College in the UK, it included the following assessment: "I found out that the school was in desperate need of everything. The whole internal system of operation - electricity, water, communication, air conditioning, etc. - was gone. Equipment and furniture had been looted. People had set fire to most of the buildings including the libraries in different colleges and departments of the school. The remaining books, journals and research materials were decades out of date." And this is an institution only partially rehabilitated from the devastation caused by the Iran-Iraq war, when the university was situated perilously close to the front lines.

In the al-Awqaf Library report referred to earlier, it was plaintively stated that "no party or humanitarian organization" had come to its assistance as of this past June.

We have received lists of lost equipment and furnishings for a few university libraries. For example, that for Al-Mustansiriyah University Library in Baghdad covers 21 classes of items, from 27 computers to 60 fluorescent bulbs. These simple numbers provide an inkling of the state of loss of these institutions, which are utterly dependent upon outside help to remedy their situation. And such numbers, stark and compelling as they are, leave out the sense of loss felt by those who used such institutions. Also interviewed in About Baghdad, a woman laments about the destruction of the library at the Academy of Arts, "I lost my brother and came to the library to study and forget."

Dr. Faiza Adeeb Abdul-Wahid (aka Faiza A. Al-Bayatti), Technical Advisor to the University of Baghdad's libraries and research centers, has described the situation of the oldest and most important university in Iraq, with 86,000 students and 24 colleges, 5 institutes, 9 centers, and 4 offices (a list daunting in itself). She also has created a report itemizing 23 categories of infrastructural and furnishing needs for most of these entities.

Dr. Abdul-Wahid also reports that the sum of 80,000,000 Iraqi dinars (ca. $62,500 at current rates) allocated from the university's budget has resulted in the reconstruction of the Central Library of the Al-Waziria campus (there are three campuses), which is nearly complete (Spring 2005). Given the enormous need, the contributions from outside Iraq have been disappointing, according to Dr. Abdul-Wahid, with small but useful donations from the Goethe Institute. One important contribution, through British publishers Blackwell's and Thompson Gale and the British Council, has been free access to data in British academic databases, which she has described as particularly helpful to university researchers.

It is universally acknowledged that adequate computational capacity is critical to the functioning of any serious academic institution in an era when virtually all text creation and communication is computer based, as is access to the internet in an era of instant communication and of abundant web resources--even if some critical ones are only available by subscription.  As Dr. Anwar Diab, General Manager of eLink Associates and resident of Massachusetts, has explained in a personal communication (21 July 2005), that with the fiber optic network severely damaged and still unrepaired since the war, the only alternate means of access to the internet is via satellite, which is relatively expensive.  He states that the main campus of the University of Baghdad at Jadiria alone two-three MB of dedicated (not shared) bandwidth is required.  The cost for this campus alone is $15,000 per month. "In two-three years, it is expected that the new fiber optics network will become functional and then there will be no need for Satellite Internet and the cost of bandwidth will become nominal."  He goes on, "In addition, there are only a couple computer centers/cafŽs in the campus, but these are operating as independent units, each with its own crude staellite access, using a shared bandwidthš The university lacks even the simplest technology-based integration between the administration, faculty and students.  They don't even have their own e-mail system" (of which he hopes to assist in the creation). Compounding these other deficits, it is shocking to discover that the absence of a steady supply of electricity, which infamously bedevils the Iraqi population as a whole, also applies to Iraq's universities, even including the University of Baghdad where some computer centers only have access for two or three hours per day.  Neither the country nor its universities can function effectively subjected to such a disastrous power deficiencies.


Infrastructure must be addressed before Iraqi institutions can effectively handle large donations of publications. Due to the looting, these libraries became virtually an infrastructural tabula rasa. The most recent reports indicate that considerable but highly uneven headway is being made in the most basic refurnishing of these institutions. While they were still in Baghdad, I had emphasized to the representatives of the CPA responsible for education and culture that this was the moment to design interconnected automated systems to link the principal Iraqi academic libraries and foster cooperative cataloguing and other online functions, which would provide direct benefits to limited staffs and to users by obviating duplicated effort, expediting access and increasing awareness of holdings throughout the country. Sadly, the rapidly degrading situation, niggardly provision of funds, and locally-oriented efforts to achieve any sort of functionality have militated against this kind of global thinking and acting. The highly efficient and responsive CPA liaison for libraries, Wishyar Muhammed, a native Iraqi and trained librarian long a resident in England, found himself out of a job when the Transitional Government took over. No funds had been allocated to sustain his job even though the ministry wanted him to stay on. With his departure went the one person in Iraq dedicated to a synoptic and non-parochial view, and by far the best person with whom to communicate for interested parties such as myself. By the time Rene Teijgeler came on board and requested his return, Muhammad, once more in the safety of England, had decided that the security situation was too threatening, and so declined.

Dr. Eskander was not encouraging regarding development of a LAN (local area network) for all Iraqi academic libraries as well. Arthur Smith of OCLC had proposed such a design employing the DYNIX system, but Eskander considered it unworkable, because (1) although they consider it less than perfect, almost all academic and major institutional libraries in Iraq use WINISIS, (2) the expense was beyond their reach, and (3) they do not wish to cease their automation work while a completely new one is installed. However, I have it on good authority, that WINISIS AND DYNIX can interchange data, and that the Iraqis could continue to work in WINISIS while DYNIX was being implemented, and even after. This would indeed require considerable expense, and this is where UNESCO or the US government could be particularly helpful if they were genuinely committed to Iraq's future.

Dr. Eskander was also not sanguine about cooperation amongst the many Iraqi universities and institutions such as his own, saying that the hierarchical-mindedness instilled under Saddam remains in place, and that lateral, cooperative action is nearly impossible. This view was independently confirmed by a recent visitor to Harvard, Dr. Anis Al-Rawi, Dean of Baghdad University's Science College for Women. He said that competition not cooperation is the order of the day for Iraqi universities. This is likely to remain the case in the absence of a person of vision supported by adequate funding at the ministerial level.

The efforts of OCLC also provide a bright prospect in this context: insofar as Iraqi libraries have or develop the technical capacity and proceed to employ WorldCat, a comprehensive view of Iraqi holdings becomes progressively available. As of this writing, it has just begun at specific sites and massive assistance will be needed to realize this potential on an Iraq-wide basis. In support of cataloguing of Arabic language materials in particular, Arthur Smith of OCLC states, "It would be exceptionally beneficial if the 'Arabic collection libraries' from American University of Cairo, Biblioteka Alexandrina, etc.--as well as the major libraries outside the Middle East--were to 'register' (set their holdings and/or contribute their records) to WorldCat. This would do three things right away that would be very important for the Iraqi libraries: (1) give the Iraqi libraries a richer source of copy cataloging; (2) let Iraqi libraries see who has what; and (3) provide a benchmark for their own collection development," by which means relative strengths and critical needs could be assessed on a comparative basis.

In so far as possible, coordination and control should be the bywords to govern all outside assistance to Iraqi academic libraries, including the efforts to rebuild collections. This is to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, to make sure that the Iraqi recipients receive publications and other sorts of support of value to them, to maximize efficiency and breadth of distribution and mitigate the burdens on the recipients. I had hoped that IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, would act as a clearinghouse for aid proposals, or, at the very least, establish a monitored web page where initiatives could be posted and commented upon. After considerable lobbying, IFLA is still only posting information in a fitful and unsystematic way, let alone being actively engaged. One must perform a search employing the term "Iraq" to find what is available on the site. This is disappointing, and no other entity--certainly not an organ of the government of the United States or the U.N., such as UNESCO Ų has filed the void on its own initiative. This has been in part compensated for by the IraqCrisis website hosted by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and managed by Charles Jones, who has posted many useful reports, descriptions of efforts at assistance that are already underway, and other information, particularly concerning Iraqi archival collections, on that portion of the site dedicated to the Middle East Librarians Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries, as noted earlier. Importantly, it provides contact information for the principal administrators at all Iraqi academic institutions supplied by Wishyar Muhammad. The idea here is to be able to link specific donors with specific institutions and thus facilitate the communication that should lead to effective assistance, although this information undoubtedly needs to be updated. Still, no institutional means to actively coordinate individual efforts exists anywhere and there is no prospect for one.

The Chicago site also has important bibliographic information concerning pre-war holdings in libraries, archives and museums compiled by members of the MELA committee, and a guide to Iraqi institutional ownership stamps. Thousands of looted library books have been showing up openly on the Baghdad book market and, one may assume, places abroad, many with their identifying marks still present. This guide is to assist in returning these books to their rightful owners. Books have been returned, although not by this means, so far. When the library of the University of Technology Engineering Faculty was looted, the professors advertised in the community and managed to get approximately 40% of the lost materials returned, some gratis, some repurchased.

USAID HEAD (Higher Education and Development Program) for Iraq is sponsoring five large-scale efforts to assist specified Iraqi universities or disciplines: This is the good news. The bad news is that they are uncertain whether their projects will be renewed for the full three years for which they, in all cases, have planned. Worse, they are typically left hanging to the last minute. If the US government does not sustain its commitments, the effort expended on getting these projects underway will have been largely wasted and more Iraqis will be disappointed. Any well-functioning project should be supported with minimal red tape throughout its proposed period of operation. Given the extent of need, three years should be considered a minimum. Five years would be better. The projects are as follows:

I know little about these two projects.

Kimberli A. Morris is the library and educational technology specialist from DePaul who is working in Iraq on the legal education reform project. This intrepid person has lived on her own in Baghdad outside the Green Zone, which makes her nearly unique among Americans working there, although she has moved to Sulaimaniya, a much safer venue. According to the DePaul website, "Her work has focused on implementing new technologies in a legal research environment and training patron groups to make efficient use of available information". One of the project's intentions is to correct the consequences of damage and neglect to the law libraries at these three institutions. To this end, Ms. Morris has been involved not only with advanced technological issues but also finding and procuring new book stacks. She hosts a web-blog that provides an intimate account of her life and work in Iraq. *21

E. Christian Filstrup, Director of Libraries at Stony Brook, has reported that 3,000 archaeology titles have been acquired for the Universities of Baghdad and Mosul. and that OCLC (of which more below), has catalogued 2,000 of these in WorldCat. They were shipped from a US air force base to Baghdad. Courtesy of this project, the Archeology Library at the University of Baghdad is wired, and has an Internet connection and computer workstations. An agreement with JSTOR, *22 the Scholarly Journal Archive, which provides online access to a multitude of journals, for example, 600 of them in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, will permit access specifically to archaeology journals. In fact, this HEAD project provided the subvention that permitted several other archaeology journals to be added to the JSTOR file. Stony Brook has also paid RLG (Research Library Group) for a three-year subscription to Anthropology Plus for the University of Baghdad and Mosul libraries and has contacted the Al-Sharaka Program to provide access to EBSCO resources (see below).

Prof. Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook from this consortium arranged for an improved Internet connection for ACOR, the American Center of Oriental Research located in Amman, Jordan, where a whole series of training events for Iraqi professionals are being held, including one group of HEAD-related librarians augmented by librarians from the National Library and Iraq Museum, in Spring 2005. Iraqi archaeology faculty and graduate students who were trained in Amman during the summer of 2004 had full access to both Anthropology Plus and JSTOR, affording them valuable experience in using Internet resources. It had been this project's intention to digitize principal archaeology texts and site reports, but that process was allocated to year two, which may never happen.

Prof. Thomas Owens, the Project Director for Al-Sharaka, has described their work to me in personal communications. A most exciting achievement of this project has been to work with EBSCO Publishing to commit to making 8,000-9,000 full text journals, reference works, country reports and other information resources available online to all Iraqi non-profit educational institutions (universities, schools and libraries), for three years at the relatively modest sum of $25,000 per annum, paid for by the project. EBSCO complements JSTOR, which is smaller, more purely academic and a non-profit organization. It is a tribute to EBSCO that they were so ready to commit to this magnitude of assistance.

Of course, for this opportunity to have maximum utility for Iraqi students and academics--and this goes for any other significant internet resource--they must have copious, ready and fully-funded internet access over time, or the Iraqis will be in the predicament of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, with "water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink." Furthermore, all Iraqi universities and other academic institutions need the hardware installations to support this access by more than the most elite of their members; not just faculty in the departments and institutes, and not just staff in the libraries, but everyone, including students at all levels.

Al-Sharaka is undertaking this responsibility for its five Iraqi partner institutions, one at a time. They first installed an operating computer lab/internet center at the University of Technology, with a dedicated satellite bandwidth. Al-Sharaka adopted an ingenious approach, which has been sorely needed in all development work of all sorts in Iraq but scarcely ever emulated; namely, having hired 13 Iraqis to manage their Baghdad office, they acquired computer components on the local market and then hired other Iraqis to construct the systems they needed in this and other computer labs. So long as quality control is maintained, it is ideal for such projects to put as many Iraqis to work and to make payouts to as many Iraqis as possible. As of June 2005 internet centers have also been installed at Salahaddin University and the universities of Babylon and Basra. As with the other projects, several of their undertakings have little directly to do with libraries and will not be described here. However, on the side, they came up with a Book donation project, which I will describe shortly.

WHO (World Health Organization) has announced that it intends to undertake the comprehensive rehabilitation of Iraqi medical libraries, led by Dr. Najeeb Alshorbaji. How this might be coordinated with the more specialized Stony Brook-led effort is not clear, a prevailing problem in circumstances such as this where no internal or external agency acts as coordinator and clearing house for all redevelopment assistance, even all efforts dedicated to library renovation. According to Dr. Alshorbaji, WHO has actually been involved in supporting medical libraries in Iraq for the last eight years, part of a general commitment to rehabilitate health care and medical education in Iraq. He led a survey through which they identified seventeen health sciences libraries in Iraq. Although some are more critical than others, all will receive attention. Their plan must take into account all of the losses due to war and looting, which undid some of their earlier work. Entitled "Rehabilitation Plan for Health Sciences Libraries in Iraq", *24 it is comprehensive in its aims, comprising collection development, detailed information infrastructure development, training of staff, and the following:

"Specific objectives 1. To assess needs and identify areas for urgent and immediate rehabilitation in health sciences libraries in Iraq; 2. To rehabilitate medical library buildings and sites including the physical space, shelves, furniture, power supply, air-conditioning, storage areas and networking infrastructure; 3. To rebuild the health sciences library collections including books, journals, and databases; 4. To provide medical textbooks for students of health and medical sciences; 5. To train medical librarians and information workers on library techniques and information technology; 6. To introduce computer-based library systems for managing collections and services; 7. To introduce Internet and web access services to medical colleges."

Although UNESCO expressed its intentions to assist Iraqi libraries early on, it hasn't publicly announcing specific plans of action or concrete results, so far as I can determine. However, Dr. Beriwan M. Khailany, Deputy Minister for Scientific Affairs at the Ministry of Higher Education, indicated on a recent visit (June 2006) to Harvard that the first Lady of Qatar had pledged $15,000,000 at a UNESCO-sponsored round table to a UNESCO fund dedicated to Iraqi Higher Education. Much of that money will go to the purchasing of university-level textbooks, some to infrastructure restoration and development, in many cases the reconstruction or renovation of buildings, including libraries. The ministry has 279 specific projects of this sort planned, employing any and all available funds, of which 10 have been completed and another 152 are in some sense underway. We can only hope that UNESCO's promises will be followed up with concrete action beyond the facilitation of the expenditure of other people's money, although the Bosnian case does not leave one sanguine of any positive results, since their thoroughgoing report concerning the needs of the National and University Library and other academic libraries in Bosnia-Herzegovina resulted in no observable action. Jean-Marie Arnoult's report was a promising start; we can only hope that it will be a beginning.


Aside from a couple of ad hoc uses of the APO (Army Post Office) system, no mechanism has existed for the efficient and cost-effective delivery of small but high quality book donations, and none is in sight. Announced donations have been limited, such as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) presentation of 34 boxes (perhaps 800 volumes) of academic books and journals to the Iraqi Natural History Museum on June 12, 2004, donated by various American universities. One determined California librarian, Topsy Smalley, has been able to elicit cooperation from a series of CPA administrators and army officers to send books to specific recipients in Iraq, but this is a one-off, unrepeatable precisely because it was based upon personal relationships and agreements rather than established institutional procedures. An International Postal Service Center was instituted in May 2004 at Baghdad Airport to handle incoming and outgoing international mail, and on 21 August 2004 the US Postal Service resumed mailings to Iraq. Thus, in principle, anyone can mail books directly to Iraq from the US although delivery is, according to an article in USA Today, agonizingly slow. As of fall 2004, Iraq had all of 208 mail carriers for its 168,754 square miles of territory, while New York City has 10,000 mail carriers to serve its 320 square miles.

The issue of effective and even-handed delivery mechanisms is primary to any worthwhile effort to rebuild the book collections of Iraqi libraries. For larger donations, similar coordination is critical, and appropriate warehousing and distribution arrangements of the sort insisted upon by the Sabre Foundation of Cambridge, with which the Bosnia Library Project has worked and with which Harvard's Committee on Iraqi Libraries is collaborating, are needed. Sabre typically relies on a partner NGO in the recipient country to play this role. Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime did not tolerate the kind of independent initiative that permits civil society to thrive and NGOs to develop. However, an appropriate Iraqi-run, Baghdad-based and registered NGO now exists which could act as partner/recipient of book shipments and engage in other development work. It is the completely Iraqi-run Baghdad office of the Al-Sharaka Program, operated by a talented, highly educated, and English-speaking staff. Al-Sharaka Baghdad has recently achieved autonomous status as a fully-accredited, Iraq-based NGO, and is thus able to proffer assistance to other initiatives requiring an effective Iraq-based partner. *25 The Sabre Foundation/Harvard initiative plans to employ this organization as soon as its initiative is funded.

Dr. Anwar Diab is presently engaged in the early planning with this writer and others concerning the possibility of establishing a non-profit organization that would be dedicated to facilitating shipments of needed publications and equipment to Iraq, among other things. Any such activities would be coordinated with al-Sharaka Baghdad at the other end. Governed by an effective vetting process, this could provide a solution to a problem that has vexed many people and organizations of goodwill in the US, allowing smaller donations, peoperly organized, packed, inventoried, labeled, and addresses, to be sent in container loads. We have discussed the idea of establishing a website that would not simply provide access to information on this proposed organization's services, but also a place to track progress in projects of all sorts related to Iraq's universities, particularly its libraries and archives.

The most widely publicized book donation to date provides an example of how not to proceed. Initially, the British Council accepted a reported ten tons of donations from English universities, although the news as of April 2004 was that the total of British donations from various sources and by this means had risen to 23 tons. The bulk of these were reportedly boxed and delivered en masse via Amman to the University of Technology in Baghdad, with a smaller amount delivered to Basra. Although this demonstrates an admirable capacity to ship very large quantities of donations (courtesy of the British army?), news from informal sources has been that tons of books from this donation languished for months in a warehouse in Baghdad and that, for a long time, no one had figured out a way to distribute them. All my efforts to learn more, including direct inquires sent to the University of Technology, elicited no further information, until I got in touch with Dr. Abdul-Wahid, who tells me that the bulk of these have been distributed. However, she has yet to provide me a critical assessment of the donations, a description of the protocols used for this distribution or a list of the recipients and what they received, so we remain in the dark concerning the quality, appropriateness and efficacy of distribution of these materials, although it is likely that they all stayed in Baghdad. Donations, particularly huge ones, should never be sent that are not thoroughly organized, lack intellectual control over contents, and are sent without arrangements made in advance and agreements specifying recipients. Even if they contain useful material, they may languish, sometimes forever. Even when this is not their fate, they place undue burdens on their recipients.

In this light, it is always worth emphasizing that any proposed donation must be critically examined with the best interests of the recipient in mind, not the convenience of the donor. The sins of the typical book drive are the donation of last year's potboilers (popular novels) and self help books, outdated reference works, stray copies or badly broken runs of journals, good books in bad shape, titles on hopelessly obscure subjects irrelevant to the concerns of the recipients, and other errors in judgment of the well intentioned but thoughtless. The staff of the Al-Sharaka Program originally conceived of a book donation effort entitled Books Beyond Borders. They initially sent out an appeal so broadly stated as to set off alarm bells. It prompted me to prepare a statement for the IraqCrisis list concerning satisfactory protocols for book donation, copied directly to Al-Sharaka and another, similar book drive. Whether they heeded my concerns directly or not, Tom Owens did tell me that Al-Sharaka had to discard 50-60% of the donations received, having established rigorous criteria for vetting them only after the appeal was broadcast. A total of 8,000-9,000 books, organized by topic and destined to specific institutions in Iraq, eventually arrived at their Baghdad Office, and were distributed by Spring 2005. In response to chronic problems on this front, BAI (Book Aid International) has established best practice guidelines *26 that are generally congruent with those this author has promoted although addressing a wider array of possible book donation efforts. They have recently been officially approved by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, formerly the Library Association), according to Julie Robinson, CILIP's International Officer.

In contrast to the many sins of omission and commission that blight the record of book donation projects past, Stony Brook has developed a productive relationship with OCLC, which, among other services, maintains WorldCat, an online union catalogue cooperatively maintained by 9,000 major libraries and containing 56,000,000 bibliographic records. OCLC, through its exceptionally dedicated Middle East specialist, Arthur Smith, has offered to provide the same service for Iraq that they had already provided to the Bosnia Library Project for gifts to Bosnian libraries, but with significant enhancements: submission of lists of ISBN numbers will result in bibliographic records for all titles in a specific donation. For most donations 99% of the titles will have pre-existing cataloging records in WorldCat. This means that if each book were matched with its record before shipment, the cataloging record including a card and an electronic record could accompany the book. From this record a spine label could also be created and attached in advance of shipment. As reported above, OCLC has accomplished this for the Stony Brook initiative and would work very well for relatively large donations to specific institutions.

Another benefit to this intermediate step would be that "electronic catalogues" for each recipient Iraqi library would be created as the books are cataloged. This means that when a library was ready to build its own electronic catalogue, the records could simply be downloaded to their local system. In the meantime, WorldCat would act as an active, temporary catalogue where each recipient library and its users could access their own holdings so long as it had effective internet access. Reportedly, librarians at the University of Mosul are already employing WorldCat for cataloguing new books.


OCLC will be taking responsibility for the training of HEAD-related librarians in Amman. The first such event has taken place (late May 2005), during which 12 librarians from the universities of Sulaymaniyah, Baghdad and Basra, came to ACOR (The American Center for Oriental Research) in Amman, for intensive technical training in online cataloguing using the DYNIX automated system. Coordinated by Arthur Smith, this instruction was undertaken completely in Arabic by two librarians from AUC (American University in Cairo), and one each from Zayed University in Dubai and The University of Pennsylvania, plus a representative of DYNIX from Riyadh. It was very successful, prompting many follow-up communications and plans for a second session in August.

Harvard's Committee on Iraqi Libraries has worked on developing two initiatives, one funded, the other with proposal submitted. The first, with the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science of Boston taking the lead, will result in significant professional development for selected Iraqi librarians, initially via intensive courses given at ACOR in Amman, later with year-long fellowships to Simmons linked to internships at Harvard's libraries. The older generation of Iraqi librarians were well trained but have lost ground through isolation, many of them simply going abroad. The younger generation never did get the chance to receive advanced training in Europe or the US and often have little idea of what they have missed, from all accounts. This effort should assist in bringing up-to-date skills and standards to Iraqi librarianship at a time when it is most needed. The first phases of this initiative have recently been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the first, intensive training sessions has taken place in July 2005, with a total of 50 Iraqi librarians taking a series of intensive courses in Amman in back-to-back two-week periods. Led by Dean Michele Cloonan of Simmons GSLIS, these sessions will largely involve other librarians than the OCLC sessions and will also be somewhat complementary, covering a wider range of issues in librarianship with English-language instruction in more of a lecture format. Later phases will involve Iraqi librarians coming to Simmons for year-long coursework accompanied by internships at Harvard libraries. Due to the presence of a library school there, a significant number of those participating are from Al-Mustansiriyah University, but several other institutions are represented. *27 It is hoped that these individuals will help educate the new generation of Iraqi librarians.


It is impossible for any one institution or effort to address the needs of Iraqi academic libraries across all disciplines. This work will take years to accomplish. We at Harvard decided to take a topical approach: to solicit from academics in the appropriate disciplines a core bibliography of currently available titles, reference works and (where particularly important) journals for topics we consider critical to contemporary Iraqi society. These essential libraries will be offered to all Iraqi universities and the Iraq National University and Archive. This effort in its fully-realized form, entitled Strengthening Iraqi Libraries, is now led by the Sabre Foundation of Cambridge. *28 The first topical collection to be developed is entitled "Establishing Democracy" and comprises a core bibliography of about 300 works on democracy and politics, starting with Plato, and that especially focuses on issues of democratic development and stability. *29 As committee head Sidney Verba put it in the initial presentation of this bibliography, "The collection is not meant to be prescriptive. These books will offer no clearly marked route nor do they offer any particular model of democratic development. Rather, as any good library collection, they present the best learning, including the disputes within the field of inquiry. Democracy can take many forms and involves hard choices. These volumes would illuminate those choices with many examples of the ways in which other nations have dealt with them."

The second general topic to be developed focuses on the "Ecology of Water". Its core bibliography will cover the three related sub-categories of wetlands ecology, riparian ecology, and landscape ecology, plus bibliographies on water resource management and conflict resolution across international boundaries. Issues related to water have been critical throughout Iraq's past, and will remain so in the future. Turkey's Ilisu project to dam the Tigris upriver from Iraq, for instance, has profound implications for water management within Iraq. If all of the planned agricultural development projects in Turkey were to be realized, the Tigris would dry up altogether downstream. The environmental consequences of Saddam Hussein's politically-driven decision to destroy the wetlands in the Shatt al-Arab (in order to eradicate the subsistence system of the Marsh Arabs and eliminate marsh-based resistance), likewise demand attention. These lists have been prepared by Iraqi-born Professor Jala Makhzoumi, now at the American University in Beirut, and her professional colleagues from several countries, augmented subsequently by Prof. Jay R. Lund of the University of California at Davis.

A third topic, "Foundations for Undergraduate Instruction in Science and Engineering", has been developed by colleagues at MIT. A fourth, "Librarianship and Library Management", is under development. Whereas initially envisioned to encompass all courses in the first year of undergraduate study at MIT across these disciplines, it has recently been decided to embrace the texts for the whole undergraduate curriculum. We envision more potential topics in the science, technology, and engineering fields, and, perhaps, another on economics. Prof. Mazin Tamar-Agha of the University of Baghdad, one of a group of visiting Iraqi academic dignitaries at Harvard in July 2005, has promoted earth sciences as a specific topic. We have chosen all of our topics with the knowledge that they are and will be complemented by other initiatives, such as the five USAID HEAD projects described above.

A very important opportunity ancillary to "Foundations for Undergraduate Instruction..." is provided by the remarkable OpenCourseWare system developed in recent years at MIT, *30 whence come the lists of titles for "Foundations." Although still under development, this extraordinary resource provides a wealth of material on all undergraduate courses at MIT, approximately 1100 in number, including vast amounts of materials on course design, including course syllabi, lecture notes, readings, assignments, exams, and other materials developed by MIT faculty. This includes extensive textual material that is out of copyright. What the topical collection provides is the very texts that cannot be placed on the OpenCourseWare site. It thus complements this resource. This is all the more significant in the light of Dean Al-Rawi's testimony to Harvard's committee in which he described the state of libraries and access to textbooks at the University of Baghdad as scarcely out of the 1930s, and the resources for the humanities and social sciences, including information on Iraq's own heritage -- as even worse. Al-Rawi described professors of computer science teaching without aid of any textbooks at all, reducing instruction to a form of advanced apprenticeship. With the provision of adequate access to the web and proper awareness of its possibilities, OCW may be employed to positive purpose by all Iraqi professors and students.

In the most recent development concerning access to OpenCourseWare (June 2005), Dr. Anwar Diab is sending a server to the University of Baghdad, containing a complete copy of the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) web site. The server at the University of Baghdad will serve as a local mirror site and will allow students and faculty in Iraq to access OCW resources without the need for Internet access. Dr. Diab and MIT OCW plan to work with the University of Baghdad to have the mirror site periodically updated.

A final feature of this phase of the initiative will be the development of a collection of basic reference resources. Such reference works are essential for all academic endeavors, yet Iraqi university libraries either lack these materials altogether or only hold outdated versions. While many of the most critical resources will be those found anywhere in the world, considerations of culture, language, and academic priorities suggest that the holdings we provide will most usefully reflect those at the best modern academic libraries within the Arab world. Thus such a collection should contain extensive Arabic- as well as English-language materials. Contemporary reference resources, even more than the topical collections described above, come in a variety of formats and delivery mechanisms.

We expect to employ OCLC's WorldCat cataloguing function for all of these topical collections and make them available to every Iraqi university library. We are still seeking funding.

The Sabre/Harvard effort has two other parts. One is dedicated to assisting in infrastructural rehabilitation at recipient Iraqi academic libraries, including an offer of a generator for each to insure it adequate, continuous access to electricity, a chronic problem at all Iraqi institutions. The funding will be employed in its fullest where the need is greatest. Recipient institutions that escaped looting will not receive any more funding for this purpose than needed. The Al-Sharaka organization in Baghdad will perform all of these needs assessments.

The final commitment is to the Iraq National Library and Archive, which will receive access to several thousand books per year from such sources as the Harvard University and Yale University presses via Sabre, on top of the topical collections, which it will also receive.

Finally, it is worth reiterating that internet access is critical. It is expensive and best accomplished in a coordinated fashion with reliable sources of funding sustained until the Iraqi economy has revived sufficiently for the Iraqi government to take over the responsibility. Several resources are potentially available to Iraqi universities and institutes given proper hardware, funding and contracts. I have already described Al-Sharaka's coup with EBSCO. In a trial effort, JSTOR has agreed to give the University of Basra two years of access to its resources. Ideally, it should be available to all Iraqi academic institutions, although Basra is especially worthy since its libraries were particularly devastated. Ultimately, funds would be required for more comprehensive access and are further dependent on the reconstruction of the infrastructure of Iraqi academic libraries as already discussed.


A relatively new effort has emerged out of the US government, entitled the Iraqi Virtual Science Library. The first paragraph of its announcement *31 reads: "Through seed money provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the generous donations of publishing companies and professional societies, the Department of State is leading a pilot program to provide Iraqi scientists and engineers access to a broad range of scientific journals and professional resources. This Virtual Science Library is being created in coordination with the new Iraqi government with the ultimate goal of transitioning the pilot program into a long-term project sponsored and supported entirely by Iraq at the end of five years."

According to Professor Susan Cumberledge of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, US Department of Defense, this initiative was undertaken in response to the clear need of faculty and students at Iraqi universities for access to the extraordinary electronic resources now available online, particularly in the sciences, including agriculture, mathematics, and engineering (to which this initiative is limited). Through conversations with Al-Sharaka (with its EBSCO arrangement), professional societies such as the ACS (American Chemical Society) *32, and publishers such as Springer Verlag and Blackwell's, this effort is moving toward the concept of a unified point of access or portal for Iraqi institutions of higher education and ministries.

A model for this initiative is provided by HINARI (the Health Internet Access Research Initiative) *33 of WHO (World Health Organization), which "provides free or very low cost online access to the major journals in biomedical and related social sciences to local, non-profit institutions in developing countries."

Funded with $300,000, this pilot is only targeting seven of the most prominent universities, four of which are in Baghdad. These institutions are, largely, those already receiving the most attention, but the logistics of organizing this project effectively and the funding limits demanded that those institutions best prepared to exploit the portal's possibilities be chosen at this stage. The publishers potentially providing access to their resources are concerned that there be effective controls over who has access. A password system is envisioned, but they continue to work on the mechanism by which users at each institution would register. It is possible that a password would be given out to an authority at each college or department. Certainly maximum access to these resources by all appropriate parties (faculty, staff, students) throughout these institutions is a clear desideratum.

Ultimately, the Iraqi Virtual Science Library would like to arrange highly favorable subscription rates from providers such as EBSCO, superior to those arranged by Al-Sharaka. Their model for this process is the developing Pakistan Digital Library, *34 a project of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission, whose project manager is Kamran Naim. This effort is supported by the US National Academy of Sciences and commenced its productive cooperation with the ACS (American Chemistry Society). As Naim has stated, "The Digital Library Program of the Higher Education Commission, launched in January 2004, is the cornerstone of the strategy of our organization to capitalize on the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to impact the development of the universities of Pakistan into world-class seats of learning, and ultimately increase the participation of Pakistan in the global knowledge-based economy. Following a greater cognizance amongst policy makers of the critical importance of the availability of affordable and sustainable access to scientific and technological content to support the needs of the indigenous education and research sector, the program aims to use the revitalized telecommunications infrastructure to provide researchers in institutions across the country with high-quality international academic databases via electronic delivery." (see *32)

Another service of this initiative is to publicize free resources already available on the web. An excellent example is PubMed, sponsored by the NIH (National Institutes of Health). As stated on its website, *35 PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine, includes over 15 million citations for biomedical articles back to the 1950's. These citations are from MEDLINE and additional life science journals. PubMed includes links to many sites providing full text articles and other related resources. MIT's OpenCourseWare is another such resource.

A further web-based service of inestimable benefit to any developing country with extensive agriculture and land use concerns is AGORA, sponsored by FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This program was unveiled on 14 October 2003: "Students, researchers and academics in some of the world's poorest countries will gain free or low-cost access to a wealth of scientific literature under a new initiative announced today by FAO and a range of public and private sector partners.

"The AGORA (Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture) initiative will provide access to more than 400 key journals in food, nutrition, agriculture and related biological, environmental and social sciences." *36 AGORA is tentatively scheduled to be made available to Iraq in Fall 2005.

The Iraq Virtual Science Library is being crafted to complement AGORA and HINARI. Its current funding will provide access to the targeted institutions for two years. As with other such online sources of critical intellectual materials, a greater commitment is not only desirable but necessary. It should be underwritten for at least a decade. Cumberledge and colleagues are endeavoring to find ways to achieve this end. It should be one of the primary commitments of the US government. Finally, conversations are underway with representatives of the technology industry to see about the establishment of servers at Iraqi Universities as an alternative mode of delivery of some of these journal resources, an idea parallel to the proposed means of delivery of MIT's OpenCourseWare.


The prevailing political situation in Iraq, perilous and uncertain as it is, makes concerted and effective efforts at reconstruction more difficult, and I am concerned over what may be lost in terms of human contacts and developing understanding and effective process with each political transition that occurs there, leaving aside the question of what would happen were regional/ethnic/confessional divisions to become more pronounced. Furthermore, the universities have become the playgrounds for every interest group and ideology in play. Faculty have been threatened and, even, assassinated, and I have heard that as many as 1,400 of them may have departed Iraq until things calm down. Indeed, direct contact with individuals such as Dean Al-Rawi and correspondence with those such as Dr. Eskander provide compelling stories of how incredibly difficult and dangerous the situation remains. The professional classes have been targets of a growing and concerted wave of kidnappings, another reason why many of them have been driven out of the country after preserving their lives at great cost from these extortionists, whether they be individuals raising funds for the insurgency or common criminals--or both.

Despite this highly fraught situation, it seems that nearly every week one hears of some initiative, project or meeting addressing some aspect of Iraqi higher education.  I have not been able to describe them all here. I have addressed the most important of which I am aware, in so far as they directly concern the condition of libraries or access to intellectual information

A viable Iraqi state will be reliant upon a thriving and effective system of higher education, and well-stocked, well-functioning libraries with effective internet access will be its very foundation. Any effort that makes a clear contribution to this end is to be welcomed. I can only hope that international awareness and commitment to libraries will be more responsible and sustained in the case of Iraq than it has been in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Specifically, I hope that the US government will recognize that full commitment and completed projects, not half measures, are what is required. Furthermore, the primary international actors should recognize that coordinated efforts are more effective than those undertaken piecemeal, and that some means be developed to realize this in cooperation with the principal Iraqi actors. It is admirable that some of the parties involved in assistance, real or proposed, are communicating amongst themselves. Nevertheless, a higher order of coordination, in so far as it can avoid excessive bureaucratization, is greatly to be desired.

Jeffrey B. Spurr
Islamic and Middle East Specialist
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
Fine Arts Library
Harvard University
final revision: 20 July 2005


*1 The introductory, historical section of this paper was originally presented as a talk at Widener University on November 16, 2004 along with a streamlined version of the accompanying report. It is an essay based upon general knowledge of the writer and quick access to ready resources, primarily on the www. It is not meant to be a work of scholarship, although the writer has made every effort to responsibly represent the historical situations in question and welcomes corrections. For a more thorough discussion of the fate of libraries, I recommend the fine recent book by Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History, New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2003, which I had not read at the time this section was written but which provides a more comprehensive if less "political" overview than I do. Another fine book with overlapping concerns is Nicholas A. Basbanes, A Splendor of Letters: the Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World, New York, HarperCollins, 2003.

*2 for Bayt al-Hikma, see "Bayt al-Hikma", The Encyclopaedia of Islam, v. I, p. 1141; also: Ted Thornton, "The Abbasid Golden Age", History of the Middle East Database, at: . The date of founding is debated; it may have been earlier.

*3 for example, see Andras Riedlmayer at:

*4 Jeffrey B. Spurr, "Lessons for Assistance to Iraq Libraries Derived from Similar Efforts to Assist Bosnian Libraries after the 1992-1996 War", Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 38, pp. 28-40 (June 2004)

*5 Bosnia Library Project-related web pages:

Also, important websites related to libraries and archives in Bosnia:

*6 see:

*7 see Jeffrey B. Spurr, "War and Recovery: One initiative to Help Bosnia's Libraries Rebuild", pp. 5-6, at:
While first reported--incorrectly--as a takeover of the whole site of the Marshall Tito Barracks (and addressed as such in my paper cited here), it is now clear that the US has claimed a so-far unrestored portion of the Marshall Tito Barracks for its new embassy next door to the present quarters of the National and University Library and several other university entities, including the Oriental Institute. Although not as dire a prospect as it initially seemed, all of that property was originally promised to the University, which will need space for expansion. Furthermore, a huge American complex with all of the perceived security demands of such an edifice in this day and age, will surely impinge profoundly on the lives of all of those working and studying nearby. As if that were not enough, Italian troops have been given use of part of the complex and have placed a frighteningly large ammunition dump within a few meters of the National Library. Although surrounded by substantial sand-filled barriers, this is barbaric and, if it should blow up, would ruin everything in its vicinity. Callous and foolish.

*8 see: "ICOM appalled by looting in Iraq", February 2003

*9 see:
Boylan adds (personal communication 6 June 2005), "The United Kingdom has announced that it has started the process of Ratification of the original 1954 Hague Convention and Accession to both Protocols (1954 & 1999), though it may be 2006 before Parliamentary time can be found for the necessary legislation. [Furthermore],
the lex situs question also extends to the applicability of Iraqi national cultural heritage law - arguably throughout, and certainly since the formal end of military occupation with the transfer of sovereignty back to the Iraqi Administration at the end of June 2004."

*10 see: "Blue Shield (ICBS): Statement on Impact of War on Cultural Heritage in Iraq"

*11 for the Iraq Memory Foundation, see:

*12 see IraqCrisis, sponsored by Middle East Librarians Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and maintained by Charles Jones, one feature of Lost Treasures from Iraq website

*13 Reports on Iraqi libraries: Nabil al-Tikriti, Iraq Manuscript Collections, Archives & Libraries Situation Report 8 June 2003

Keith Watenpaugh, et al, Opening the Doors: Intellectual Life and Academic Conditions in Post-War Baghdad, A Report of the Iraqi Observatory, 15 July 2003

Jean-Marie Arnoult, Assessment of Iraqi Cultural Heritage: Libraries & Archives, June 27-July 6, 2003 (By UNESCO contract)

Library of Congress and the U.S. Department of State Mission to Baghdad. Report on the National Library and the House of Manuscripts, October 27-November 3, 2003

E. Christian Filstrup, The USAID-Iraq HEAD--Stony Brook University Program in Archaeology and Environmental Health. Libraries Assessment: Baghdad Visit 17-22 December, 2003

Revealing photographs of several institutions post looting, including the Bayt al-Hikma, the Maktabat al-Awqaf and the National Library, by Nabil al-Tikriti and McGuire Gibson may be seen at:

*14 Sinan Antoon, Nadya Sbaiti, Bassam Haddad, Dirar Hakeem, Rania Masri, Maya Mikdashi, Nadya Sbaiti, Suzy Salamy, Sherene Seikaly, Adam Shapiro. See:

*15 for Un ponte per∑, see:

*16 for Saad Eskander, "The Tale of Iraq's 'Cemetery of Books'", see:

*17 for the International Council on Archives (ICA), see:

*18 Amnesty International, Iraq: Responsibilities of the Occupying Powers

*19 for Hamid K. Ahmed, "The Poor Condition and High Hopes of University Life in Basrah today", see:

*20 for Raising the Bar, see:

*21 Kimberli Morris' web-blog:

*22 JSTOR -- The Scholarly Journal Archive

*23 for Al-Sharaka Program see:

*24 for a description of WHO program see (and scroll down):

*25 to contact the Al-Sharaka Program, Iraqi NGO in Baghdad:

*26 for BAI standards

*27 Iraqi librarians participating in Amman include: 15 from al-Mustansiriyah University, 7 from the University of Basra, 7 from the Technical Institute, Baghdad, 6 from the Iraq National Library and Archive, 5 from the University of Mosul, 5 from the Foundation of Technical Education, Baghdad, and one from the Baghdad Documentation Center, University of Baghdad.

Led by Michele Cloonan, Dean of the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Boston, the instructors present for the sessions at ACOR include: Basima Bezirgan (University of Chicago), Cynthia Correia (Simmons GSLIS & KnowledgeInform), John Dean (Cornell University.), David Hirsch (University of California at Los Angeles), Ian Johnson (Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen), Shayee Khanaka (University of California at Berkeley), Pat Oyler (Simmons GSLIS). and Harvey Varnet, Director, Phillips Memorial Library. Providence College. But for illness, Lesley Wilkins of Harvard would have joined them. Bezirgan and Khanaka are both natives of Iraq.

For "Letters from Abroad: Amman, Jordan", subjective accounts of the teaching/learning process and time at ACOR from some of the participants, see:

*28 see:

One page description of the general proposal:

Sabre Foundation: Strengthening Iraqi Libraries

The Sabre Foundation of Cambridge Massachusetts, in collaboration with the Harvard Committee for Iraqi Libraries, proposes a set of initiatives to strengthen library collections in 20 Iraqi universities and the Iraq National Library and Archive. This effort has engaged librarians and faculty at Harvard and MIT, at other U.S. and foreign institutions, and in Iraq itself. At the Iraqi end, this work will be undertaken in close coordination with the Al-Sharaka Program, Baghdad office. This prospectus anticipates a three-year program with three principal components:

Post-conflict assessments of Iraqi university libraries depict collections that have scarcely been updated during the past twenty-five years. Severe post-conflict looting and vandalism in many cases also compromised the materials that were previously in hand. Some libraries have lost essentially all of their holdings. The overall panorama remains problematic even as sovereignty has been passed to an Iraqi government. No single effort can possibly address these overwhelming needs. The initiatives outlined here aim to achieve the most with the means available while complementing other efforts. Each Iraqi university and the Iraq National Library will be offered well-defined collections that address selected critical topics, including "Establishing Democracy" (with 11 subsets, from "Classic Works on Democracy" to "Truth and Reconciliation Processes"), and the "Ecology of Water" (with five subsets, from "wetlands ecology" to "water management"). This effort also addresses the formation of basic reference collections in English and Arabic for all institutions. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) will provide both electronic and card cataloging records for all collections.

The Iraq National Library and Archive has suffered similar neglect and devastation. The humanities and social sciences have been identified as areas in critical need of development. Sabre is committed to offering access to the publications of Harvard and Yale university presses and other such high quality sources to assist in this goal.

To enable recipient academic libraries to take best advantage of these donations, infrastructure assistance is offered. The Al-Sharaka Program's Baghdad office already has experience with this work, and will undertake assessment and rehabilitation as each case dictates.

Regardless of the precise political arrangements that will develop in the near future and despite the present level of instability, Iraqi universities will continue to exist, faculty will continue to teach and students will still need to learn. Consequently, the more that can be done to ameliorate their situation by providing useful materials to advance that education, the better off Iraq will be. Furthermore, Sabre Foundation is practiced in handling book donation projects in unstable situations. Ongoing programs include Afghanistan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia, all devastated countries with unstable political situations. It is precisely such countries in acute disarray that are the ones most in need of this sort of assistance.

*29 "Establishing Democracy" subsections. While our bibliography particularly reflects the issues facing Iraq during its process of democratization, the scope is wide. Its sub-sections suggest this range:


*30 OpenCourseWare:

*31 Announcement of the Iraqi Virtual Science Library:

"Description of Iraqi Virtual Science Library:
Through seed money provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and
the generous donations of publishing companies and professional
societies, the Department of State is leading a pilot program to provide
Iraqi scientists and engineers access to a broad range of scientific
journals and professional resources. This Virtual Science Library is
being created in coordination with the new Iraqi government with the
ultimate goal of transitioning the pilot program into a long-term
project sponsored and supported entirely by Iraq at the end of five

The Virtual Science Library will:

* Provide free access to thousands of scientific, environmental,
agricultural, medical, engineering and technical journals to Iraqi
ministries, universities, technical institutes, and other scientific
* Provide links to e-classes and course materials, research funding
opportunities, fellowships, and professional societies; and
* Help preserve existing intellectual capital, encourage new
professional relationships, and support a traditional source of moderate
leadership in Iraq.

Providing access to scientific and technical information is an essential
step toward empowering Iraq with the tools it will need to meet upcoming
challenges. Moreover, building strong ties between Iraq and the
international scientific and engineering communities is essential for
fostering open, transparent communication and developing the networks
needed to fight global terrorism.

Donors & Supporting Agencies:


Target users:

University partners in Iraq:



*32 for ACS publications, see:

*33 for HINARI, see:

*34 for information see: (scroll down to article: "First ACS Third World-Developing Country agreement reached with the Pakistan Higher Education Commission", in Livewire, Issue 6.3, March 2005

*35 for PubMed, see:

*36 for AGORA announcement, see:

Middle East Librarians Association Home Page

Middle East Librarians Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries

The MELA Committee on Iraqi Libraries web presence is produced in collaboration with the LOST TREASURES FROM IRAQ project at The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, and is hosted at the Institute's website.

Revised: August 10, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Oriental Institute, University of Chicago; Middle East Librarians Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries