By LYGIA BALLANTYNE
The Library of Congress has seven Americans working overseas in charge of its six acquisitions offices located in Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Nairobi, Islamabad, New Delhi and Jakarta. Like most of our countrymen, the six field directors (with one exception) and the one deputy field director in New Delhi learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon through television. We watched in shock and disbelief at the replaying of the attacks.
For most of us–certainly for those serving in parts of the world troubled by terrorism and political strife–our immediate concern, after the initial state of shock and sorrow for the loss of life, was for the security of our families and employees, and for the protection of our offices and the Library's property. The librarian's reaction–to collect materials relating to the attacks–came next.
Trained to look at events in order to document bi-national and global agendas as they are played out in the countries in which we live and work, we recognized the importance of collecting local coverage of September 11 and the response of the United States. Reactions and coverage of the events varied from country to country within our areas of responsibility. Official reactions unanimously repudiated the attacks, as did the leading press in most countries. In some countries, however, public reaction was quite mixed. In most of our overseas offices our local employees lined up at our doors to commiserate with us and show their solidarity. Many citizens of the countries where the Library has offices also had perished in the attack on the World Trade Center. Books of condolences were made available at the American embassies and consulates and people walked in from the street to record their messages of support.
The offices turned to their usual sources of publications to acquire newspapers, news magazines, pamphlets, books, cassettes and posters. We immediately instructed our dealers, country representatives and acquisitions staff to be on the lookout for and supply any material relating to the events. We collected anything we could get our hands on, including materials that might otherwise have been considered out of scope. In India, for instance, books on the attacks were off the press barely two weeks after the event. Even though they lacked originality or depth of analysis, we considered it worthwhile to acquire them. In Indonesia, the office acquired Muslim clerics' sermons recorded on cassettes. This genre of literature is usually collected on a selective basis, but in this case, as a reflection of local attitudes at the time, it became important to obtain what we could of these sermons which were often critical of American policy.
In Pakistan prior to September 11, the Islamabad office had already begun a program to obtain cassette recordings and publications from radical Islamic groups (some of which groups were subsequently banned in January 2002). After the tragedies in New York and Washington, there was an influx of posters, cassettes, videos, CDs and publications depicting views of various extremist organizations. Even a copy of a decree issued by Osama bin Laden in Arabic with an English translation, declaring war on the United States, was acquired. Thirty-six posters featuring bin Laden were acquired in October and November 2001, most featuring Koranic injunctions on jihad. On many there were inscriptions of anti-American slogans and pictures of various arms and ammunition, from swords to tanks and jet fighters. The most remarkable of these (pictured at left), obtained in October 2001, depicted bin Laden against the backdrop of the World Trade Center under attack. This poster is significant because it appeared to represent an early claim of responsibility for the assault on the towers by bin Laden or his followers and sympathizers in Pakistan. The primary caption, in Urdu, translates: "Hundreds of Osamas will emerge from every drop of my blood."
In Bangladesh, our representative acquired from street vendors in Dhaka seven large-size posters and calendars of bin Laden. The Bengali posters were full of quotations from bin Laden's anti-American pronouncements, side-by-side with extracts from the Koran. The illustrations included weaponry and scenes of military training camps, but no photos of the attacks. The bin Laden quotations dated the posters as being post-September 11.
Our office in New Delhi decided to organize all the materials we acquired in a collection, arranged by language and, within languages, by format. The assembled collection was then microfilmed in our office laboratory and cataloged. The collection was broadened to embrace materials not normally microfilmed by the office, including regional newspapers and magazines that were acquired for a limited period expressly to document regional opinion. They included titles from several Indian states, from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Burma, resulting in two reels of microfilm. The second reel included only Urdu publications from India and represented the opinion of the large Indian Muslim minority.
In addition to creating this special South Asian collection, we extracted the Sept. 12 issues from the runs of newspapers regularly microfilmed by the New Delhi office to send to Washington for possible showing in the September 11 exhibit. These included not only titles from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, but also newspapers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan and Thailand.
The Cairo office made particular efforts to collect materials on the attack by closely surveying the market in Cairo and by immediately contacting its vendors and bibliographic representatives in other countries in the region to remind them of the importance of collecting everything on the actual attack as well as other pertinent material. Contemporaneous commentaries in print were collected in serials and newspapers; monographs followed. Recently, an 11-volume set of reproductions of articles from leading newspapers in the Middle East dated Sept. 12-30 was acquired from the Egyptian media conglomerate Al-Ahram. Although television broadcasts saturated the airwaves, none was available for sale. Efforts continue to identify sources of such tapes.
Field Director Laila Mulgaokar and Mary-Jane Deeb, the Library's Arab world specialist, arrived in Kuwait on Sept. 9 for a four-country acquisitions trip in the Gulf. After the attacks, the American embassies encouraged them to continue their trip, saying that it was important to keep "business as usual." Mulgaokar and Deeb witnessed overwhelming sympathy for the United States on the street and in the media. They were also faced with unfavorable opinions of American foreign policy in the Middle East, and the cause-and-effect link to the attack was often implied if not clearly stated. However, as representatives of the Library of Congress they could turn the focus away from the political America to the cultural America and the mission of its national library, which included the collection and preservation of creative works for all countries. They emphasized the Library's goal to acquire materials written in the countries themselves, so that members of Congress and researchers would have access to original writings that reflected the culture and reality of those societies. Such works are essential for informed, balanced interpretations. They emphasized the need, now more than ever, for the Library to acquire local material so that users would have access to original information contained in commercial and non-commercial publications.
In Brazil, the terrorist attacks did not have the same impact as they had in the countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East; however, there was also a great outpouring of compassion and sympathy from all sectors of society. The municipality of Rio commissioned huge outdoor billboards and placed them in many locations throughout the city on September 20. These billboards depicted the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio's trademark tourist attraction, with its outstretched arms over the skyline of New York City with the message–"Rio embraces New York." Opposition to our government's war on terrorism, however, surfaced even in Brazil when the billboards were defaced by signs that said "The U.S. is the enemy of peace."
One measure of the impact of the events of September 11 on the psyche of Brazilian society was the appearance of several chapbooks of "literatura de cordel"–the traditional form of folk poetry published in small booklets, usually illustrated with equally traditional woodcut drawings. This popular art form–whose roots date back to Middle Age troubadour poetic traditions in Europe–is a barometer of popular national sentiments, often reflecting portentous world events that capture the imagination or move the people, such as man's first walk on the moon, the appearance of Halley's comet and the assassination of President Kennedy. Over the years, the Rio office has acquired for the Library what now must be one of the most important collections of "literatura de cordel" assembled anywhere. The World Trade Center tragedy inspired a number of "cordelistas," the popular poets who keep this ancient art form alive in Brazil, and these new chapbooks are being added to the Library's collection.
The Jakarta office, situated in the world's largest Muslim country, concentrated on collecting print, non-print and electronic materials from Southeast Asian religious and political figures concerning September 11 and its impact both on the region and on America. The office tripled its acquisitions of religiously oriented journals. Publications varied from a Cambodian monograph on bin Laden to documents leading up to the July 2002 ASEAN foreign ministerial meeting in Brunei where the region's nations agreed to cooperate with the United States in combating terrorism. Staff attended poetry readings and book launchings to collect materials by local authors expressing their personal emotions toward the victims. In addition to sending materials to the Library and participant libraries, the office scanned items for the Congressional Research Service and other agencies of the U.S. government and organized and microfilmed materials to preserve them for future research needs.
The terrorist attacks in Washington and New York and our ensuing military response generated a small trend in publishing that was quickly detected in the overseas offices. Indian publishers, particularly, were quick to respond to the catapulting of Afghanistan onto the center stage by reprinting dozens of titles on the history, culture and languages of the country. Books on terrorism and on the Islamic faith, including quickly "cut and pasted" articles, unattributed and described as "encyclopedias," also came off the presses in India in great numbers. Interest in the reprinted books on Afghanistan, on anything on terrorism, and on Islam in general was high, and the academic libraries that are clients of our Cooperative Acquisitions Program were keenly interested in adding this material to their collections.
To say that the world will never be the same is not an overstatement. This is true of our nation, but also of the many countries and societies for which we have acquisitions responsibility that were affected by the events of September 11. We in the overseas offices, on a priority basis, compiled what was locally available on the subject in order to provide a post-attack record of these events for the use of immediate and future researchers.
Lygia Ballantyne is the field director of the Library's Overseas Operations Office in New Delhi. Laila Mulgaokar (Cairo Field Office), Pamela Howard-Reguindin (Rio de Janeiro Field Office), James Armstrong (Islamabad Field Office), William Tuchrello (Jakarta Field Office) and Paul Steere (Nairobi Field Office) also contributed to this report.