Prelude to Iraq National Library and Archives

(Saad Eskander, DG, Iraq National Library & Archive)

    Iraq National Library and Archive (INLA) occupies a central position in the development of Iraqi culture through collecting and recording all types of local publications (e.g. books, journals, newspaper and maps) and documenting official and semi-official files and private papers. Thus, the INLA is the principal source of information and data on Iraq’s political, social, economic, administrative and cultural life, which scholars and university students use for their own researches. Since 2003, the INLA has sought to modernize itself. It succeeded in putting an end to its isolation from the international community of libraries and archives by establishing direct relations with foreign cultural institutions with the aim of benefiting from their experiences and acknowledge.

    Immediately after the collapse of the Saddam regime and in the middle of the ensuing chaotic situation (9-12 April 2003), some arsonists set fire to various parts of the INLA’s main building, causing considerable structural damages. Almost all the equipments were destroyed or carried away. Most importantly, serious damages were inflicted upon the INLA’s collections of book, journals, files, records, photographs and maps. The Republican archive (1958-1979) was destroyed in its entirety. It is estimated that the library lost 25% of its collections, including its rare books, whereas the archive lost 60% of its collections, including invaluable Ottoman records.

    The INLA’s new administration has adopted a policy that is in harmony with the construction process of a new democratic, federal and multi-cultural Iraq. In spite of encountering huge challenges and difficulties, including terrorist attacks, environmental threats, and shortage of money, power cut and lack of expertise, the INLA has moved forward in a relatively short period, as several objectives have been realized:

  • The ‘Iraqification’ of the INLA’s cultural tasks and role. Its new cultural policy of developing its library and archival collections is in line with the pluralistic nature of Iraqi society.

  • The creation of a good environment for the development of the INLA’s activities and services by encouraging individual creativity and taking initiatives at different levels. The administration of the institution has been democratized. Apart from holding regular meetings in every department to discuss policies and to deal with everyday problems, librarians and archivists hold internal elections from time to time to elect their representatives, who will defend their rights and air their opinions at the official meetings of the Council of Managers. These representatives play a tangible role in the process of policy-making and implementation. The democratization has evidently lifted the morale and the productivity of the librarians and the archivists. The widespread phenomenon of financial and administrative corruption has been eradicated through applying the mechanism of collective responsibility.

  • With the aid of foreign institutions, a number of librarians and archivists have received special trainings with the aim of increasing their knowledge and sharpening their skills.

  • Modern technology and methods have been made available as much as possible to modernize the INLA’s services and activities. 

  • The INLA has been developing its collections by brining in new publications and by acquiring copies of foreign documents and records relating to Iraq’s modern history.

  • The employment of new generation of newly graduated young librarians and archivists.  

  • Special attention has been paid to woman’s rights. More and more responsibility has been given to female librarians and archivists in line with their qualifications and experiences. At present, women play a significant role in the process of decision-making and implementation. To defend their rights, female employees formed their own association inside the INLA. The woman Association publishes its own journal.

  • De-Ba’athification policy has been adopted since the beginning of 2004. Thousands of publications were removed from the INLA’s own collections. Only, one or two copies of these publications have been preserved for academic reasons. At the same time, the department of prohibited publications was dismantled, and all censorships were removed. For the first time, the INLA’s collections contain liberal, left wing, Shi’i and Kurdish publications.         

     In conclusion, the INLA owes debt of gratitude to several foreign institutions, which has been helping it to pass through its present ordeal, such as the Italian NGO, un Ponte Per, the regional governments of Lombardi and Tuscany, the Czech Ministries of  culture and Foreign Affairs, the Czech Gemma-Art Group, the British Library, the National Archives of the UK, the British Embassy in Baghdad, the Simmons College (Boston), the Harvard and UCLA and the staff of UNISCO in Baghdad

 


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