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.
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.
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.