By MARY-JANE DEEB
The Liberian civil war that raged between 1989 and 2004 wreaked havoc on the small country in West Africa. Out of a population estimated in 2006 at about 3 million, 150,000 died as a result of the conflict, 750,000 fled the country and more than 1.2 million were internally displaced. Monrovia and many of Liberia's towns and villages were ravaged, burnt and looted. Its libraries suffered the same fate. Today little is left of the written record of Liberia's history or of its intellectual heritage.
In early 2006, Angel Batiste, the Library of Congress's Africa specialist for West Africa, was approached by the current ambassador of Liberia in Washington, D.C., Charles A. Minor, for help in setting up a library service in his embassy. He wanted to establish a public library that would provide information on and about Liberia to assist displaced Liberians in the Washington area as well as Americans wishing to visit Liberia for business or pleasure.
Batiste agreed and began to guide the staff of the embassy on setting up goals and guidelines for library acquisitions, developing a collection policy and creating an operating budget. Batiste also helped the staff find and photocopy book reviews and articles in journals; identify dealers from whom to purchase books, photographs and other materials on Liberia; and locate materials in bookstores and online.
She also helped the staff to locate materials on Liberia's history from sources such as the American Colonization Society (ACS) papers and the African Repository and Colonial Journal, the official journal of the Colonization Society.
In 1822, ACS, with the support of the U.S. government, began sending freed slaves to a colony in West Africa. In 1841, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first black governor of the colony and, with encouragement by the ACS, oversaw the establishment of the independent republic of Liberia in 1847. In 1913, the Society donated to the Library a 190,000-item collection of records and an entire set of 26 volumes of its journal, which contains historical documentation pertaining to the state's founding.
In February 2007, the Liberian Embassy launched its new library on the occasion of the visit of Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, the first woman head of state in Africa. At the reception held in honor of the president, Batiste presented Liberia's president with a collection of the inaugural speeches of many Liberian presidents dating back to President Edwin Barclay in 1934. On display were items from the new library, including a copy of President Roberts' will, which was found at the Library of Congress.
Mary-Jane Deeb is chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division.