Representatives from the Library of Congress traveled to Iraq in April to assess ongoing digitization efforts at the Iraqi National Library and Archives in Baghdad (INLA)—one of 78 partners in 52 countries helping to build the World Digital Library (www.wdl.org). They also conducted training sessions for Iraqi librarians and acquired materials for the Library.
Made possible by State Department officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the trip allowed Library staff members Michael Neubert and William Kopycki to follow up on the use of digitization equipment that was provided to INLA through the World Digital Library project. Launched in April 2009 by the Library of Congress and UNESCO, the WDL site makes important cultural and historical documents accessible—free of charge and in multilingual format—to users worldwide. (See Information Bulletin, May 2009.)
While in Iraq, Neubert and Kopycki also trained more than 200 librarians from Baghdad, Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimainiyah on topics relating to digital conversion and digital library planning and management.
“I have been excited to meet with Iraqi colleagues and to see their interest in making their libraries more available to Iraqi users and the world,” said Neubert, supervisory digital projects specialist at the Library’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.
Neubert’s presentation “Digitizing on a Shoestring” provided Iraqi librarians with a vision of what could be accomplished in the area of digital preservation without having access to high-cost equipment.
“Helping librarians will help increase the knowledge of what Iraqi material is available in published form,” said Kopycki, field director for the Library’s Overseas Office in Cairo, Egypt, who spoke at the 5th Annual Erbil International Book Fair. “In turn, this will help the Library of Congress fulfill its mission to make these resources available and useful to Congress and the American people.”
Accompanied by Caryn Anderson, director of the U.S. Embassy’s Information Resource Center, Neubert and Kopycki accepted Arabic and Kurdish language publications from their Iraqi hosts, for inclusion in the Library’s collections. They held meetings with U.S.-trained INLA staff and agreed to initiate regular book exchanges between the two institutions. Kopycki made connections with many Iraqi publishers, and acquired a wide range of publications available in Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac, representing the diversified communities found in Iraq.
The visit to Iraq concluded with a meeting with Iraqi government officials and senior university librarians to discuss a unified electronic catalog serving all Iraq universities.
Michael Neubert and William Kopycki contributed to this story.
An Ongoing Partnership
The recent visit to Iraq by Library staff members continued a mission that began in the fall of 2003. A team of three from the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division, Anglo-American Acquisitions Division and the Preservation Directorate made an official visit to Baghdad to assess war damage to the Iraqi National Library and Archives (INLA) and to offer assistance in restoring this cultural asset of Iraq. (See Information Bulletin, December 2003.) The trip was made possible by the State Department and the Pentagon.
The team determined that while some of Iraq’s national archives documenting Saddam Hussein’s regime since 1977 were methodically incinerated six months earlier, the contents of Iraq’s national library appeared to have survived.
While this was the Library’s last official visit to Iraq until recently, a dialog has continued between the Library of Congress and INLA. In September 2006, INLA Director Saad Eskander came to the Library to view its print and digital collections and exchange ideas with Library officials and staff members. (See Information Bulletin, November 2006.)
INLA subsequently became a partner in the World Digital Library along with many other national libraries around the globe. Through this partnership, WDL purchased and loaned digitization equipment to INLA, and provided training. This allowed the Iraqis to digitize rare 20th-century periodicals from their collections and make them available on the WDL site. These included “Layla,” the first women’s journal published in Iraq, from 1923-25 (www.wdl.org/en/item/3054). The WDL has provided equipment to other partner institutions such as the National Library and Archives of Egypt and the National Library of Uganda, thereby allowing them to participate in building the World Digital Library. Provision of equipment to partner libraries has been funded by private donors to the WDL, including the Lawrence and Mary Ann Tucker Foundation and the Carnegie Corp. of New York.