One Consequence of Anarchy: The Fall of a Library

The war in Iraq has brought death to many innocents and soldiers, a shortage of supplies, food and water, and the serious need for humanitarian aid of all kinds. Unfortunately, anarchy continues to spread in the larger cities, including Basra.

There have been many photo galleries available with astonishing images of the events as they have unfolded in Iraq in the past three weeks.

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Today in the Globe and Mail, I spotted this picture ( 2003, LA Times, taken by Don Bartletti of the Los Angeles Times, and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism: Feature Photography). I was saddened by what I saw: a looter damaging part of a library at the Basra Polytechnic College in order to steal bookshelves. The photo also reveals a gaping hole in the roof, damaged perhaps by mortar or debris after an explosion or bombing.

For a librarian, this is perhaps the most disturbing image of all: a thoughtless assault on what belongs to everyone: information, knowledge, data, all that is contained on the shelves and via the computers of a library. Who knows what was going through this man’s mind as he relentlessly threw the books to the floor of an already badly damaged and abandoned library. I wonder about the students, staff and faculty, there to teach, study and learn, their lives and work interrupted by war. For those fortunate enough to return to this college, it will be a long and arduous time of rebuilding and recovery.

In the past, librarians in first world countries have rallied to help librarians and libraries in less fortunate countries to salvage their collections when serious damage has happened to them, be it the result of fire, flooding, or in this case, war and anarchy. I hope that our larger library community is able to learn, in a short time, more about the extent of damage and loss faced by the library at Basra Polytechnic College, and other libraries in Iraq that may be suffering the same fate. Hopefully we can then respond with help to restore books to their shelves and dignity to their lives.

3 Responses to “One Consequence of Anarchy: The Fall of a Library”

  1. sharon Says:

    i dont know how to say this but i thought that was very heart-felt and well-written. I think I may understand how you feel.

  2. randy Says:

    Thanks, Sharon, I appreciate the kind words. The feeling of helplessness in situations like this for me as a librarian, was multiplied many times over today, having learned that the Iraq Museum of Antiquities has been gutted by looters.

  3. Jodi Says:

    Any time anything that is any sort of “record” is destroyed, it breaks my heart.

    I revere books, and can’t imagine ever abusing one.

    This makes me very sad, indeed.

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