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Web Letter

Thank you for brining attention to the sad state of libraries in Iraq. I would like to add that Simmons College has endeavored to aide Iraqi librarians since 2004. Funding has been difficult to obtain, but Simmons has nonetheless provided training sessions for more than fifty-five Iraqi librarians (sessions were held in neighboring countries and were conducted in collaboration with a number of other universities). Funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (05/06 sessions) and the US Department of State (07 session).

More recently, Simmons worked to bring two Iraqi professors of library science to Boston to pursue doctoral degrees. They arrived in Boston in late December and have begun their course of studies. A third candidate will hopefully arrive next fall.

Without a significant increase in funding it will be impossible to take on more systematic change and support. Nevertheless, American librarians have not completely abandoned their Iraqi colleagues.

Meaghan O'Connor

Boston, MA

Apr 16 2008 - 10:27pm

Web Letter

I would like to refer readers to information on an upcoming shipment to the Iraq National Library and Archive in the report reprinted below:

Summary of Sabre Foundation’s Work with Iraqi University Libraries and the Iraq National Library and Archive

The goal of Sabre's book donation program is to help fill the need for high quality, up-to-date educational materials in developing countries and countries in transition throughout the world. In the last eighteen months, Sabre has shipped 50,000 new books with a fair market value of more than $3 million to Iraq, in support of universities, libraries and institutes of higher education.

Books are selected from Sabre inventory lists by NGO partner organizations. Instead of trying to send as many books as possible, regardless of demonstrated need, Sabre asks its partners to select titles and quantities of books and CD-ROMs from offering lists sent by e-mail. Partner organizations for the shipments to Iraq include: Association of University Lecturers (Mosul); Kurdistan Reconstruction Organization (Dohuk); Iraq Health Access Program (Baghdad); and International Relief and Development (Arlington, VA). Orders are packed and shipped in ocean freight containers from Sabre's book distribution center in Lawrence, MA, which holds an inventory in excess of one million new books.

Over 200 publishers have participated in the book donation program in the last 22 years. From thousands of titles offered throughout the year, Sabre carefully chooses only the materials likely to interest its constituencies abroad. Donated books cover such diverse fields as business and economics; medicine, science and technology; English language and literature; agriculture; the environment; computer science; political science and government; law and democracy; American history and culture; the humanities and social sciences; and general reference. The books are in English, a widely preferred second language of choice.

The broad range of available inventory means that Sabre has the capacity to respond to very specific requests. In Iraq, Ph.D. students have requested materials in areas such as African-American literature and modern American theater, and relevant titles are to be found in Sabre current holdings. In cases where requests can not be met through existing inventory, Sabre offers the service (assuming available funding) of purchasing books and/or including them in the donated book shipments. One example of this is a project in conjunction with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa and the Harvard Committee on Iraqi Libraries, whereby materials will be acquired in the areas of modern American fiction, literary theory and literary criticism. A purchase project focusing on the rule of law is also in development for the Dhi Qar Provisional Reconstruction Team. Assistance to Sabre’s Iraq program has also been provided by the Hawaii-Iraq Higher Education Partnerships programs at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

A summary of completed and upcoming shipments follows:


• University of Mosul: 12,545 new textbooks, reference books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on business, engineering and medicine (sent in October 2006)

• 1,504 books on constitutional design, multi-ethnic/multi-religious countries, and truth and reconciliation processes, selected by the Harvard Committee on Iraqi Libraries, were purchased and sent in March 2007 on a USIP-funded project for 20 university libraries and the Iraq National Library and Archive

• Universities of Salahaddin, Koya & Sulaimani: 10,375 new textbooks, reference books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on science, engineering and medicine (sent in May 2007)

• University of Dohuk: 11,613 new textbooks, reference books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on computer science, science and medicine (sent in July 2007). Included MIT’s OCW “mirror sites” (hard drives with operating instructions) for both Dohuk and Mosul universities

• College of Education and Trading in Zakho: 13,891 new textbooks, reference books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on business, education, science and social sciences (sent in Dec. 2007)


• College of Medicine, University of Baghdad: selected new books and CD-ROMs in medicine and health sciences. OCLC electronic cataloging records to be provided

• University of Mosul: selected new books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on medicine, engineering, science and environmental science. OCLC electronic cataloging records to be provided.

• Iraq National Library and Archive: shipment to be comprised of:

1. Approximately 7,500 humanities and social sciences books (in no more than three copies per title) to be selected from titles offered by Harvard University Press, MIT Press, and Yale University Press. To be shared with the Central Library of Mustansiriyah University, the Central Library of the University of Technology and the Central Library of the University of Baghdad
2. Arabic-language law materials donated by the Harvard Law School Library
3. Arabic-English/English-Arabic dictionaries (to be purchased)
(OCLC electronic cataloging records to be provided)

• IRD (for the University of Anbar), two shipments: selected new books and CD-ROMs, with a focus on medicine, engineering, computer science and science

• An additional two shipments to universities and technical institutes in northern Iraq are in the planning stages

Sabre has also received requests for shipments to the following universities: University of Babylon, University of Basra, University of Baghdad, Diyala University, and Mustansiriyah University.

The following institutions provided funding to cover Sabre Foundation’s costs of organizing, packing and sending the shipments:

• The Ministry of Higher Education, Kurdistan Regional Government: for three shipments benefiting universities and technical institutes in the north

• Mosul University: for the 2006 shipment

• The US Embassy in Baghdad: for three upcoming shipments (College of Medicine, University of Baghdad; National Library and Archive; and University of Mosul)

• From Washington DC-based, IRD (International Relief and Development): for two upcoming shipments to benefit the University of Anbar

In addition, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, New York, NY, donated funds for the provision of learning materials to educational institutions in Iraq.

Presented at the March 27, 2008, "Education, Health and Socio-Economic Developments in Iraq Today" conference at the Library of Congress.

Tania Vitvitsky

Cambridge, MA

Apr 15 2008 - 5:50pm

Web Letter

With regard to the author's comment about the "increasingly unstable position of American libraries" and "budget cuts here," a February 4, 2008 press release from the American Library Association bearing the title "Libraries nationwide to benefit from President Bush's proposed budget" [ala.org] had as its first sentence, "The American Library Association (ALA) applauds the funding increases for libraries proposed in President Bush's fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget, released this morning."

Jack Stephens

Los Angeles, California

Apr 10 2008 - 5:22pm

Web Letter

A well-written article about how the US stood by while Iraq's cultural and historical heritage was pillaged and how U.S. efforts to "rebuild" Iraq have ignored culture.

However, I do take exception to something in your article. You write, "And it was from Baghdad that these works [Greek and Latin texts we accept as the foundation of Western thought] would eventually make their way to medieval Europe and help lift that continent from its benighted, post-Roman intellectual torpor."

Not true; you should know that it was very largely from Byzantine Greek Constantinople, not Arab Baghdad, that classical literature and culture was transmitted to Western Europe, thus helping to jump-start the Renaissance (see the excellent book, Sailing to Byzantium, by Colin Wells).

Jason Moore

Houston, Texas

Apr 10 2008 - 4:40pm

Web Letter

Thank you for an interesting, well-researched and poignant article.

People can locate themselves in history and reproduce their culture if they have rich and diverse representations of the past. Libraries are the repositories of such representation--call it 'culture'--and as such must be of inestimable value to all 'cultured' people.

The scenes acted out in the Iraq National Library and Archives seem to be a clash between two cultures. But not exactly the ones that the phrase evokes.

In one (the occupied,) the mainstream valued the past and their most prized cultural institutions (the Qur'an, the Haj, etc.) have venerable history. The preservation of a particular culture (the Ummah) is fundamental to all aspects of life. Thus their explanations for the present and for conduct are in the light of the past, or of an imagined past.

In the mainstream of the occupiers' culture, the greatest desideratum is the new (the latest discovery, product, weapon or procedure.) History is brief, and is framed in a nationalist narrative. Here, as Marshall Berman puts it, 'all that is solid melts into air' so that capital can renew itself. Science and the secular explain the past in terms of data in the present.

So the failure to protect the libraries conveys a very precise message. But it can also be seen as a material act of cultural war--an attack on the repositories of the past that the subject culture had used to orient itself in time and history. As conquered peoples, they are presumably expected to embrace the fleeting culture of the new, along with and perhaps indistinguishable from 'democracy', that flickers intermittently on their television screens.

One way to distinguish whether the conquerors are barbarians or not is to see whether they spare the libraries.

Michael Cope

Cape Town, South Africa

Apr 10 2008 - 3:49am

Web Letter

Dear Sir:

Thanks for the courage to publish the article.

The only press that seems to care about honest journalism, with a few exceptions like you, seems to be in other countries. Why, if we are suppose to be the shining city on the hill, are we behaving like Germany of the thirties? Have we gone beyond the point of recovery? Why don't we know that we have literally turned the entire county of Iraq into a parking lot? What about the museums? What will history say about the country that our parent worked, suffered and died for? If they, our parents, were the greatest generation, what have we become?

James Pinette

Caribou, Maine

Apr 10 2008 - 12:27am

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