ALA joins international library community in assisting Iraq National Library

Contact: Michael Dowling


For Immediate Release

April 23, 2003

ALA joins international library community in assisting Iraq National Library

The American Library Association (ALA) today announced it has begun working wi th other members of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force – which includes the Library of Congress, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and various cultural organizations – to coordinate with efforts of the International Federation of Libraries and Institutions Association (IFLA) and UNESCO to respond to requests for assistance from colleagues in Iraq to help restore the National Library and Archive, Iraq’s principal Islamic library, and other important centers of learning in the cradle of civilization.

"The American Library Association grieves for and deplores the catastrophic losses to Iraq's cultural heritage that have already occurred with the destruction of the National Library Archives and the Islamic library. Cultural heritage is as important as oil. Libraries are a cornerstone of democracy and are vital resources in the re-establishment of a civil society. We urge the administration to ensure that in the future the necessary resources will be made available to prevent further catastrophes," said ALA President Maurice J. (Mitch) Freedman.

"ALA stands ready to work with our sister cultural organizations in Iraq, appropriate agencies, and the Iraqi people and urges the U.S. government to help rebuild and restore these and other libraries and cultural institutions in Iraq that have been looted and destroyed – thus helping to return to the Iraqi people an important part of their cultural heritage and legacy," he concluded.

The National Library and Archives of Iraq and the principal Islamic library were destroyed last week by looters and arsonists. Reports indicated that the libraries were unguarded at the time of their destruction. Reports also indicate that very little, if any, of the collections survived. The printed books, manuscripts and archival records held in these institutions documented the historical and cultural history of the country. It is clear that a large proportion of these historical documents were unique and may never be able to be replaced or duplicated in any form. The National Library and Archives housed all the books published in Iraq. It preserved rare old books on Baghdad and the region, important books on Arabic linguistics, and antique handwritten manuscripts from the Ottoman and Abbasid periods. The Islamic library was home to some of the world’s most priceless early Qurans and other scholarly material pertaining to the Islamic faith.

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