Special Collections

#Cultural Heritage #Conservation Efforts in the Middle East

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       First of all, let me state that the happenings and notions discussed at this event, now one week ago, on 01 October 2015, left one with plenty to think about regarding the efforts and responsibilities of libraries and librarians around the globe. These responsibilities are as much about the future of preservation as they are about embracing a full and nuanced representation of the past in as many formats as possible.
       The event was organized by the Washington, DC chapter of Special Libraries Association – of which the current president is Deena Adelman.
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       She introduced the evening generally, noted the DC Chapter is celebrating its 75th Anniversary Jubilee, and then introduced the MC for the evening, Michael Albin, who, as of the time of this writing, is a member of the Board of Directors for Voices for Iraq.
Voices for Iraq
       The three presenters for the evening contributed much to the discussion about issues in preservation and conservation in the Middle East.
       The first speaker was Michael Albin. His paper was called, Vulnerability of libraries and archives and restoration of what’s been damaged” – currently posted at Voices for Iraq. He talked about the inconsistencies in getting information about the state of libraries and archives out of Iraq, made mention of the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) decision to make the Qatar National Library the Arabic materials preservation and conservation center in the region, discussed the FBI list and warnings against the illicit trading and selling of cultural heritage materials and suggested that libraries and organizations get news verified about regional happenings before it gets submitted for publication because he states that much of it is either sent in a panic or is rather reactionary. He also expressed some thoughts that libraries and archives are not as prioritized as highly as sites and buildings in conservation and preservation efforts. He cited examples in Iraq and Egypt.
       The second speaker of the evening was George Pappagiannis  of UNESCO. His presentation tackled related ideas generally but explored completely different aspects of it – he talked about legal provisions and frameworks that surround UNESCO’s efforts to conserve and protect cultural heritage globally.
Specificallly, he mentioned the several conventions that have been put into place over the decades and that a weird law followed by the United States meant they stopped their annual dues for UNESCO. It seems the US is a non-dues paying member even though membership means dues should be paid. The US is now 4 years behind in its dues. As a result, when asked about how librarians can get involved, Pappagiannis suggested we contact our congress people and ask Congress to get current in its dues – in part because the dues sit about $80 million per annum and this is money which can be used for even greater conservation and preservation efforts globally.
       The third speaker, Mary Jane Deeb, head of the Library of Congress’ African & Middle Eastern Division, suggested a very upbeat approach to preservation and conservation work. Her presentation was about the synchronicity that occurs when good things happen in libraryland that allow for protection and conservation of artifacts and resources. She said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” – which was really her mantra for the whole presentation. Specifically, she talked about an Afghani collector of photographs documenting all aspects of life in Afghanistan going all the way back to the Russian invasion of the country in 1979. This collection needed some funding to be collected and made available – a funder came through after some time to get the work done. She also talked about what seemed to her as a controlled burn by the Baathist party of their archives in the Iraqi national library at the start of the US-led occupation and war. But it seemed to her and her team that this burn was only meant for those items only – not anything else in the collection or the stacks. In addition, she praised the Shiite clerics who saved so many Iraqi manuscripts during the same time period. These were just a few of the examples she offered. Her emphasis, in tandem with Michael Albin’s earlier, was that though there are MANY challenging events in the work of preservation and conservation, not everything is doom & gloom. It was an inspirational presentation and was a superb conclusion to the trio of presentations.
       There was lots of chatting over catered hummus, grape leaves and baklava, thanks to the hosting institution, Bloomberg, BNA, and professional bonding over issues related to the responsibilities of libraries, museums, related institutions to protect and promote cultural heritage. 
       Thank you for reading.
       Jesse
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Advice on Learning #Arabic

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I am beginning a new library job tomorrow, a job that will revolve around Middle East and Arabic studies.

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(Image courtesy of Caravan-Serai, Inc. <accessed 02 Nov 2014>)

I will need to learn Arabic.

Who can suggest to me the best resources and methods for learning, not only to speak, but also to read, Arabic?

You can drop those recommendations into the reply box below or reply to me on Twitter: @jlibraryist.

Thank you for reading.

Jesse L.

In the Virginia Room with Tad Suiter

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On Wednesday 16 January 2013, I sat down to talk with one of the numerous helpful Virginia Room staff members, Tad Suiter, about special collections, the role of local history in the public library’s mission statement and library promotion.

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The role of collections shifts in libraries and when one thinks about local history within libraries, the realization is that patrons who enter the contemporary Arlington Public Library will be checking out books and movies that are generally popular within the current culture, using the community boards and using computers with their free internet access to do everything from applying for jobs to playing web-based internet games. This role may not be as much about books as it has been. One of the resources that will not be used as often is the rare books and special collections found in Arlington County Library’s Virginia Room – a separate room on the first floor designed to act as a traditional reading room (such as the famous reading room in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building), a linkage to the rare books vault and archival materials housed and managed to be used ONLY in the reading room. Most of these materials are rare and unique to Arlington and thus would not survive normal circulation cycles.

I asked about the Mission Statement of special collections within the Library and two points were made. <I write, “within the library,” because only a fraction of patrons who walk into the Central Arlington Library also walk into the Virginia Room. The Virginia Room houses the Special Collection – not designed to be circulated for numerous meaningful reasons.> The first point relates the Virginia Room’s collection mission to the APL’s Mission Statement as a whole. The APL’s Mission Statement is “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons.” The Virginia Room certainly is situated to conform to that mission as the collections are Virginia specific with a niche focus on local history and Arlington history. Another aspect of the mission statement, however, makes mention of “other patrons.” One assumes this is deliberately ambiguous because the APL could never foresee the wide use potential of their special collections for work by scholars or writers from around the nation and world. In particular, Tad Suiter mentioned the excitement expressed by a visitor from Japan who noted unique items in the collection that are about Arlington but may be part of some specific interest within the domain of information collection. Sure, many patrons focus on genealogy or request items about the street they or loved ones lived on in generations past, but these special collections, though local in title, are also used by non-Arlingtonians.

The second point relates to this issue of APL’s mission statement, but subtly redirects the use of the collections – this is the point that local collections are useful to “reach out” beyond the local.   In the first place, the Virginia Room houses some of the institutional archives for APL. At first thought, it would seem that local archives are designed for use for APL studies – they are. But a county’s public library archives could just as well be studied in order to explore ideas within a grander scope to reflect trends within county libraries statewide or nationwide. In addition, even though the United States has plenty of diverse lives and diverse life-organizations occurring within its borders, the fact that Arlington is a suburb of Washington, D.C. (a relatively large urban district), means that some aspects of library use and local culture may relate to America generally since DC is where so many important decisions are made and Arlingtonians, many of them, work within these halls of decision. Arlington’s special collections are not just for use by Arligntonians even though the collections are housed within the Virginia Room and the mission statement declares fist the public library is for Arlington patrons. That same statement also declares it is available for other patrons. The above paragraph expresses the potential for extra-local use of special collections.

Truth be told, a theme running through the conversation with Tad Suiter revealed the challenges of promoting special collections. Special Libraries of America certainly believes in promotion of efforts by its members. But even the SLA does not have an “official” definition of what is a special library or special collection. APL has a semi-regular feature on its webpage through which it promotes historical elements found within collections found in the Virginia Room. Tad Suiter suggests he believes patrons would find it very interesting not just to see a piece of history written from artifacts in the collection (a perfectly fine effort for promotion), but also to realize the efforts of digging through the collections and the processing of those items for events, writing, research or other projects. Promotion of libraries runs through much current literature on library use, encouraging wide use and trends in social media. One can even see it pop up regularly in job postings across many fields within librarianship. I suppose this small essay is an act of promotion.

I want to thank Tad Suiter for his time and helpful ideas. The whole staff at the Arlington Public Library is very helpful, but I want to specifically thank the staff of the Virginia Room at this moment. I recommend checking out their special collections, ask questions and maybe send a comment or two here or at Twitter.

Thank you for reading.