By MARY-JANE DEEB
Saad Eskander, director of the National Library and Archives of Iraq, recently visited the Library of Congress to continue the dialogue about institutional cooperation that began during the Library's mission to Baghdad in fall 2003.
From Oct. 25 through Nov. 3, 2003, a team of three from the Library's African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED), Anglo-American Acquisitions Division and the Preservation Directorate made an official visit to Baghdad to assess war damage to the national library and to offer assistance in restoring this cultural asset of Iraq. (See Information Bulletin, December 2003.) In September 2006 Eskander came to the Library to view its collections and exchange ideas with Library officials and staff members.
Upon his arrival, Eskander met with Librarian of Congress James Billington and Deputy Librarian Donald Scott, Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum and Director of Collections and Services Jeremy Adamson. In the afternoon, he met with John Hébert, chief of the Geography and Map Division, who gave him a tour of the stacks and showed him some rare Kurdish tribal maps that were of great interest to the Iraqi national librarian, who is Kurdish himself. Eskander was also shown a copy of a 4,000-year-old Babylonian clay tablet showing a city by the Euphrates River.
John van Oudounaren, the Librarian's strategic adviser for the World Digital Library, and Laura Campbell, director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, organized an overview of American Memory and Global Gateway Web sites. This was of enormous interest to the Iraqi librarian, who would like to expand the materials available to readers in the National Library in Baghdad by linking to educational Web sites.
The following day focused on collections and collection development. Eskander is primarily interested in developing his library's collection on Iraq, and secondarily on the Arab world. He also said that the focus of collecting was on the social sciences and the humanities as opposed to the sciences, as that subject area was acquired by many of the university libraries. James Gentner, the acting director of the African and Middle Eastern Acquisitions Section and field director of the Cairo office, met with Eskander to discuss the best way to acquire and exchange materials with Iraq.
Staff members in AMED's Near East Section met with Eskander and spent an entire afternoon showing him selections from the section's collections, including some rare illuminated Islamic manuscripts, Iraqi serials and Kurdish monographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They also presented resources available on two Library of Congress Web sites: one on Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish calligraphy sheets (http://international.loc.gov/intldl/apochtml/) and the other on Islamic manuscripts from Mali (http://international.loc.gov/intldl/malihtml/).
Law Librarian of Congress Rubens Medina and his staff, who were hosting the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) conference, organized a special program for Eskander to demonstrate GLIN as well as the special Web site on Saddam Hussein's trial (www.loc.gov/law/public/saddam/).
To learn about the Library's preservation work, Eskander met with Dianne van der Reyden, chief of the Library's Preservation Directorate, and visited various divisions in the directorate. In the Conservation Division, he was given an overview of preventive conservation, including environmental monitoring of light and air quality and control of temperature and relative humidity. Temperatures in Baghdad during the summer months soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and frequent power shortages make such environmental controls almost impossible.
In the Binding and Collections Care Division he saw how acid-free boxes are made to protect rare materials.
Preservation Research and Testing Chief Nels Olson briefed him on the Library's research projects. Eskander was particularly interested in research on traditional paper materials because soot still covers some of the books in his library in the aftermath of arson.
Kenneth Harris, director of the Mass Deacidification Program, demonstrated to Eskander how books were being treated using the Bookkeeper system. He pointed out that in 2005 the Library had deacidified 250,000 books a year, compared with 100,000 in 2001. Eskander said that most books in Iraq were currently printed on highly acidic paper that was turning yellow very rapidly, and he was worried about losing the books that had survived the fires and looting that occurred in 2003.
Steven Herman, chief of the Collections Access, Loan and Management Division, and other Library staff gave Eskander an overview of the off-site storage facilities at Fort Meade, Md., and Culpeper, Va. Using an online presentation and models, they explained how the two facilities offer environmental control for more than 1 million films, 700,000 audio materials and millions of books and serials. Eskander was particularly interested in underground facilities that might provide a naturally stable environment for library materials.
On the last day of his stay, Eskander gave a talk on the changes that have taken place at the Iraqi National Library since the Library's mission to Baghdad. Using a PowerPoint presentation, he showed “before” and “after” pictures. He talked about the losses sustained in 2003, and his efforts and those of his staff to rescue rare materials and archival documents, including unique Ottoman documents that were water-damaged. He said that despite security problems and power shortages that threaten the collections, he had managed to keep the library open.
Eskander concluded his presentation by expressing the hope that the Library of Congress would become a partner in the effort both to save existing collections and to expand the Iraqi National Library's acquisitions.
Mary-Jane Deeb is chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division.