Friday, June 22, 2007

Iraqi Libraries Struggle to Keep the Faith

Dedication is always an admirable trait in an employee, but its presence in Iraqi librarians is downright heroic.

Lucinda pointed me to the British Library's site which features the diaries of Iraq's director of the national library. In them he documents the power and water failures, the death threats against library employees and security guards, the lengthy and circuitous routes to work occasioned by the destruction of bridges and roads. Members of his family urge him to leave Baghdad for the security of a city less under siege. Corrupt government officials sit on their hands. The library staff swelters as generators fail. The sun itself (which he capitalizes, significantly) becomes an oppressor to be survived.

The British Library site includes a link to the web site of the Iraqi National Library. I clicked on it, only to have the connection "refused." As I read more of the diaries, I realized that once again, there was probably no power to the library. The diarist has to go to internet cafe to retrieve his emails, so often is there no connection to the library itself. (Update: I did get into the site Wednesday, June 27--it's really interesting and includes articles on restoring the country's national heritage and rebuilding the library. Try the link above; if you aren't successful the first time, keep trying. It's worth the effort.)

As I sat exclaiming over the diaries, children's librarian Beth Reynolds slipped downstairs and returned, bearing The Librarian of Basra, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. (The illustration above is from this book.) It's the true story of a dedicated librarian in that city who, when learning of the likelihood of war, began to take bags of books home, to see that they will be spared in the event that the library is bombed. As war became more and more inevitable, she enlists the neighbors of the library in her campaign, and in the course of a few sleepless nights, these guardians of literacy are able to relocate 70 per cent of the collection. Beautifully written and illustrated, it's a children's book worthy of the attention of adult readers.

Here my authorial voice fails. The danger, the destruction, the staff's persistent yearning for the light is more than I can fathom. Keep these brave people in your thoughts and prayers.