The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) was created in
1978 as part of a general Library of Congress reorganization.
At that time, three disparate administrative units -- the Hebraic
Section, the Near East Section, and the African Section -- were
combined. Together they cover some seventy countries and regions
from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to
Central Asia. The division coordinates and directs the component
sections. Each section plays a vital role in the Library's acquisitions
program; offers expert reference and bibliographic services to
Congress and researchers in this country and abroad; develops
projects, special events, and publications; and cooperates and
participates with other institutions and scholarly and professional
associations in the United States and around the world.
The Hebraic Section, the oldest of the three, began operation
in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitic and Oriental Literature,
and it concentrates on Jewish culture, Israel, the Hebrew language,
biblical studies, and the ancient Near East. Although proposed
earlier, it was not until 1960 -- with mounting national academic
and government interest in sub-Saharan Africa -- that the Library's
African Section was established, administered initially by the
General Reference and Bibliography Division. This section focuses
on virtually all topics relating to sub- Saharan Africa. In 1945,
the Near East Section was created as part of the Orientalia Division
to serve as a focal point of the Library's programs for this pivotal
area, which includes North Africa, the Arab world, Turkey, Iran,
the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Islam.
Volumes about the Middle East and Africa were among the books
making up one of the first major purchases by the Library of Congress,
the 1815 acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's library, the subject
and linguistic range of which greatly influenced future Library
acquisition policies. Although sporadic receipts of publications
from or about the region were reported in various annual reports
of the Librarian of Congress over the years, systematic acquisition
efforts for publications from this part of the world were limited
before World War II. Yet today the African and Middle Eastern
Division is recognized as a major world resource center for the
Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Africa. The Hebraic
and Near East sections have custody of materials in many formats
in the non-roman-alphabet languages of the region, which together
number more than half a million volumes. The Hebraic Section collections
contain some 160,000 volumes in Hebrew and related languages,
including Yiddish, Ladino, Syriac, and the languages of Ethiopia.
Materials in more than forty languages are held by the Near East
Section, the major holdings of which are in Arabic (the largest
language group represented, with approximately 130,000 volumes),
Persian, Turkish, non-Cyrillic Central Asian languages, Armenian,
and Georgian. Although the African Section has no formal custodial
responsibilities, it maintains a pamphlet collection of more than
To further enhance holdings already strong in the fields of history,
literature, economics, linguistics, art, religion, and philosophical
studies, division curators participate in acquiring materials
of research value through purchase, copyright, exchange, and gift.
Noteworthy grants and gifts have also served to strengthen these
collections. For example, gifts from Jacob H. Schiff, one in 1912
and another in 1914, enabled the Library to acquire nearly 10,000
volumes and substantially increased the Hebraica collections.
In 1960 a grant from the Carnegie Corporation provided initial
support for the African Section, including staff travel to many
African countries to obtain publications for the Library's collections.
Generous gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dadian in the 1990s created
an endowment to develop and maintain the Library's Armenian holdings.
In the spring of 1997, the division moved from the John Adams
Building to its present imposing location in the newly renovated
Thomas Jefferson Building. The new African and Middle Eastern
Division Reading Room houses a 10,000- volume reference collection
and a rotating display of current events journals, arranged and
maintained by each of the three sections. The division welcomes
visitors and provides prearranged briefings on its activities
and services for individuals and for groups. Researchers may consult
specialists who readily provide in-depth reference assistance
in identifying materials in their custodial collection as well
as related sources about the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central
Asia, and Africa in roman script and in other formats or specializations
found in the Library of Congress General Collections or in units
such as the Geography and Map Division, the Manuscript Division,
the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the Law Library.
Akiva Ben-Ezra, A Geshikhte
fun a Shtetl, 1142-1942 (Horodetz:
A history of a village) (New York, 1949). This memorial
volume tells the story of Horodetz, a small town in Poland,
destroyed in the Holocaust. Hundreds of Yizker-bikher
(memorial volumes) have been published, constituting
a unique literature of remembrance. These works are especially
useful to genealogists because they often contain lists
of names and photographs of people and places.
In the several display cases located in its grand reading room,
the division mounts small exhibits such as Oil and Petroleum
in Africa and the Middle East. Major exhibits featuring AMED
collections have been mounted in the Library's galleries. From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress
was prepared to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the
Hebraic Section, and a version of this exhibit later traveled
to several North American cities.
Special events and outreach activities have long been part of
the division's agenda. Working through the three sections, it
sponsors many library, cultural, and scholarly programs. Officials
of the International Summer Seminar in Jewish Genealogy accepted
an offer from the Hebraic Section to serve as host for the seminar's
1995 meeting, making the Library's outstanding genealogy-related
resources readily available to participants. The Africana Librarians
Council of the African Studies Association has held several of
its semiannual meetings at the Library. As part of its fiftieth
anniversary celebration in 1995, the Near East Section held a
conference on "Arab-American Cultural Relations," and more recently,
it cosponsored with the Embassy of Tunisia a panel of international
experts who spoke on "Tunisia: Past, Present, and Future." Lectures,
including a research seminar series, are another important and
ongoing part of the division's outreach program. Well-known speakers
such as MacArthur Fellow and human rights lawyer Gay McDougall,
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and Egyptian philosopher Zaki Naguib
Mahmoud have participated.
The Agam Megillah
(London and Israel, 1997). A recent addition to the Library's
Hebraic collections is a modern decorated megillah by noted
Israeli artist Ya'akov Agam. Produced on parchment measuring
thirty-two inches high, the limited edition includes a silk-screened
border by the artist, with the text handwritten by the scribe.
In this megillah, the traditional text is adorned with distinctly
modern decorative artwork. (Copyright © 2001 Artists
Rights Society [ars], New York/adagp, Paris)
Another role of the division is to facilitate projects to enhance
access to the collections, as it does through
the widely acclaimed body of publications issued under its auspices.
The catalog of the highly successful exhibit initiated by the
Hebraic Section, Scrolls from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library
of Qumran and Modern Scholarship, published jointly by the
Library and the Israel Antiquities Authority, received several
awards for its design. The African Section has compiled more than
forty publications ranging from bibliographies of official publications
of African nations to short subject guides on contemporary issues
such as Abuja: The New Federal Capital of Nigeria. Titles
prepared in the Near East Section include The Holy Koran at
the Library of Congress and American Doctoral Dissertations
on the Arab World.
The African and Middle Eastern Division continues to exert a
vital influence in the development of area studies librarianship.
Its staff is recognized for scholarly publications. They serve
as officers in area studies organizations and attend and participate
in national and international meetings on their areas of expertise.
And, finally, a significant contribution made by the division
is in its training of young scholars and future librarians through
briefings and presentations, the internships and volunteer positions
it offers, and the mentoring it provides to promising candidates,
thus preparing the way for the future success of the study of
these vital areas in world culture.
Chief, African and Middle Eastern Division