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The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 2, January 13, 2008, Article 18

BAGHDAD'S BRAVE LIBRARIAN

[The following are excerpts from a lengthy Christian Science
Monitor article published this week.  -Editor]

Like most librarians, Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq
National Library and Archive in Baghdad, has to deal with
a number of disturbances: people speaking loudly in the
study area, lost books, and the occasional sniper fire or
Katyusha rocket attack.

"Our building was rocketed a few times," says Dr. Eskander,
in the same level tone he might use to describe a trip to
the grocery store. "It was mortared and part of our fence
was destroyed.... Stray bullets and sometimes snipers'
bullets smashed some windows as well, including my office."

Though none of Eskander's staff have been injured in these
attacks, five have been killed in sectarian violence, and
death threats have displaced dozens of his 300-plus staffers.

Eskander hardly seemed the Jack Bauer of librarianship as
- during a recent tour of the US - he recounted his
experiences in the Cambridge apartment of his colleague,
an archivist at Harvard University. A slight man, Eskander
is soft-spoken and not easily excitable. His wire-rimmed
glasses and slick sports coat belie the stereotype of
librarians committing 30-year-old fashion faux pas. But
then again, Eskander is not your typical librarian.

"I heard before visiting the National Library and Archive
that it was damaged, but I did not know the extent of the
damage," recounts Eskander. "I was astonished when I found
it in a total ruinous state."

Eskander was also confronted by an unraveling security
situation. If ever there was a place on the proverbial
wrong side of the tracks - even by Iraqi standards - the
National Library and Archive was it. It is sandwiched
between Baathist militant strongholds, Al Qaeda hotbeds,
and an American military base. Eskander has watched US
helicopters rain down fire on targets just outside the
library.

Security around the library has noticeably improved since
late September, says Eskander. Recent community efforts
combined with US and Iraqi military campaigns have purged
many fighters from the area.

"Culture is important, especially secular culture and
especially an institution that documents the cultural
and scientific achievements of a nation," says Eskander.
"The country was on the verge of dismemberment and
institutions like us and like the Iraqi Museum could
play a role in the fact that they provide common symbols
to all Iraqis. We are not a sectarian institution; we
are a national institution."

To read the complete article, see:
Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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