Why LWB is Needed: A Historical Overview (Return to top)After viewing a video in LIS 593: Archive Administration on the destruction of the National and University Library in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, I discovered the topic for my literature review. Libraries in the time of armed conflict which I have entitled "Into The Flames"
As noted in the New York Times on May 22, 1940 after the destruction of the Catholic University Library in Louvain, Beligium for second time in less than thirty years.
"The enemies of books-and of all free and tolerant thought-had their day when the library at Alexandria was burned ages ago. They have had their days since. But we must have faith that they do not finally conqueror (Hamblin, 28: 1999).
I will first reviewed literature reporting the destruction of libraries during the time of armed conflict including regional, civil and world wars. I gained further insight into the concept that destruction of libraries and archives is a way of erasing the collective memory of a people. Furthermore, I discovered over twenty articles related to the topic but unfortunately no books or monographs were available on this topic at the University of Alberta Libraries. Luckily, a Interlibrary Loan of a Master’s thesis entitled "Alexandras's Ashes: War and the loss of Libraries" by Penelope Hamblin from the Universit of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was very insightful. It arrived after my literature review was written but before this webpage was created. Libraries have long been institutions of pluralist ideals in western democracies and a place for citizens to debate the ideals of civil society. As A. Manguel noted "As repositories of history or sources of the future, as guides or manuals for difficult times, as symbols of authority past or present, the books in a library stand for more than their collective contents and have, since the beginning of the written word, been threatened with destruction (Hamblin, 9: 1999).
Placing restrictions on access to ideas has occurred in both libraries and archives. I recall a story from the early 1990s from my birth province of Nova Scotia when two individuals tied to the white supremacy movement vandalized the old card catalog in the provincial archives of Nova Scotia. By destroying all references and cross-references to First Nations, Women, and People of Colour, therefore denying access to archival research on these topics bu the patrons of the archives. Luckily backup cards were stored off-site and now the rise of automation and online cataloguing could prevent such criminal activity in the future.
The destruction of libraries and books is not a unique twenty-century occurrence. The first example of book burning occurred in China over 2500 years ago. As Grand Councillor Li Ssu reported to the Chinese emperor:
“Your servant suggests that all books in the imperial archives, save the memoirs of Ch’in, be burned. All persons in the empire, except members of the Academy of Learned Scholars, in possession of the Book of Odes, the Book of History, and discourses of the hundred philosophers should take them to the local governors and have indiscriminately burned. Those who dare to talk to each other about the Book of Odes and the Book of History should be executed and their bodies exposed in the marketplace. Anyone referring to the past to criticize the present should, together with all members of his family, should be put to death. (Lerner, 52: 1998).
The Destruction of Library at Alexandria, Egypt (Return to top)Limiting conversations and restricting access to ideas helps reinforce thought control by autocratic regimes both religious and secular. In 300 B.C.E Ptolemy of Egypt established the Museion (Museum) of Alexandria, which included a huge collection of learned scrolls. The library of Alexandria, Egypt was the most famous library of antiquity and survived for a thousand years. Although the library of Alexandria was destroyed, not only by war but also neglect according to legend, the library was its final destruction was led by Arab leader, Amr ibn-al-‘As’ (Lerner, 25-31: 1998).
"Amr, so the story goes, sought the advice of the Caliph Omar, leader of the faithful. What should be done with the books of the infidels? The answer came back from Media: see if they agreed or disagreed with the teachings of the Koran. Books in accord with the teachings of the Prophet were unnecessary; those contradicting them were iniquitous. The four thousand bathhouses of Alexandria were heated for six months with the great library for fuel (Lerner,30 :1998).
According to Hans Van der Hoeven, in the twentieth century the targeting of libraries during wartime was commonplace. Van der Hoeven lists twenty-six examples worldwide that saw destruction of libraries from 1914 to 1993 (Van der Hoeven, 7-18: 1998). Here is a more detailed examination of the destruction of libraries in modern times.
According to Andras Riedlmayer, the wholesale destruction of libraries in the time of armed conflict as seen recently in the bombing of the National Library in Sarajevo on August 25, 1992, has a historical precedent exactly seventy-eight years before in 1914. The German army in beginning of World War One invaded the neutral country of Belgium. The ancient university town of Louvain in the French-speaking Flemish part of the country was occupied without incident. However, on August 25, 1914 several German soldiers were killed and the German military decided to punish the residents of Louvain. Firstly, the German soldiers, on orders of the High Command, rounded up and then quickly executed two hundred of the townspeople. Secondly, the soldiers burned down the historic downtown quarter. Within this section of the city lay the Catholic University of Louvain and its famed university library. Within a few days, the library was in ruin and its 230,000 volumes, including 800 incunabula (items printed before 1500) and 900 manuscripts, were destroyed (Riedlmayer–It has Been Done Before!, 1: 1994).
The German action was condemned throughout Europe and America especially among librarians and academics. Within a month, the President of Harvard, A. Lawrence Lowell, established a fund to rebuild the library. After the end of WWI the restoration of the Louvain Library was included in the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The terms included a ten million franc trust fund to give an annual income for the purchase of books to restock the library. The compensation to the library at Louvain also included 1750 rare books and manuscripts that were duplicate copies of books in German libraries. On July 4, 1928 the Catholic University Library reopened its doors only to be destroyed by a German artillery detachment in May of 1940. After WWII the Louvain Library was rebuilt for second time (Riedlmayer-Its Has been Done Before!, 2: 1994).
World War Two: Destruction of Records (Return to top)
After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, a systemic destruction of the cultural heritage of the Polish people was started by occupying Nazi regime. The western provinces that were occupied first lost all of their public and private libraries. The year 1944 saw the destruction of the National Library in Warsaw with the loss of over 700,000 volumes. By 1945 over fifteen million out of twenty-two and half million volumes in Polish libraries had been destroyed (Van der Hoeven, 9: 1998).
To destroy the Jewish heritage in Poland, the German army formed specialized “Brenn-Kommados’ or arson-squads to destroy Jewish cultural centres including synagogues, schools and libraries. In the city of Lublin the Great Talmudic Library at the Jewish Theological Seminary was burnt with the loss of the collective memory of several centuries of Polish Jewish heritage (Van der Hoeven, 9: 1998).
According to Linda Barnickel, during World War Two, the German army had several units whose sole purpose was the pillaging of cultural records. The first was the Ribbentrop Battalion, which was a specialized unit established ‘to seize and to secure, immediately after the fall of large cities, their cultural treasures and all objects of great historical value (Barnickel, 5-6: 1999).” The items were sent back to Germany. After the occupation of the Ukraine in 1941 the library of the Academy of Science was raided an its rare manuscripts in Persian, Abyssinian, Chinese, Ukrainian and Russian were seized, as well as first edition books by the first Russian printer, Ivan Fjodorov (Barnickel, 6: 1999).
The second unit was Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), which was organized on regional, subregional, and local units to collect and process looted archival and cultural items in the occupied territories. A letter from the Reich Minister for Occupied Territories noted the goal of ERR as follows:
“…Listing and detailed handling of all cultural valuables, research materials, and scientific work in libraries, archives, research institutions, museums, et cetera, found in public and religious establishments, as well as in private houses” (Barnickel, 6-7: 1999).
The detailed records of the ERR had a positive effect when returning items to their rightful owners after the end of the war in 1945, as noted by Barnickel (Barnickel, 6: 1999). This was exemplified in the article on the returning of Jewish cultural property by Robert G. Waite (2000). In late February 1946, Captain Seymour J. Pomrenze, a trained archivist, headed the Offenbach Archival Depot in the American Zone of Occupation that processed over three million items looted by the Nazi regime. The Archival Depot returned the majority of the items to the rightful owners over the next six years. Nearly half a million books could not be restituted to the original owners or to the country of origin. The Library of Congress contacted various Jewish libraries and librarians in the United States and Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc. was established to give the items to Jewish libraries in the United States and in the newly created state of Israel (Waite, 215-24: 2002).
The National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in May 1945 under the federal country of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. After the University of Sarajevo was established in 1949, the role of a university library was added to the mandate of the National Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The collection was housed in a pseudo-Moorish building constructed from 1881 to 1896, which was designed by famous architects Aleksander Wittek and Ciril Ivekovic. During the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the building served as the city hall or Vjecnica in Serbo-Croatian, and this name Vjecnica become synonymous for the library. The institution acted as a depository library and national library throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Gifts and exchanges with libraries in the United States, Austria, Italy and the Soviet Union help expand the collection. By 1974 the library had 639,534 volumes or 261,461 titles and by 1992 the library housed over one and half million volumes and six hundred thousand serials (Zeco, 294-7: 1996).
On April 4, 1992 the Serbian army besieged city of Sarajevo as civil war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina . All roads to Sarajevo were blocked and supplies of electricity, gas and water were cut. Serbian artillery gunners attacked the city from the hills outside Sarajevo. To destroy all memories of the Islamic tradition in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serb troops attacked and destroyed mosques and cultural centres tied to the Muslim minority. On May 17, 1992 the Oriental Institute was shelled and within two hours over seven thousand documents from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries were destroyed (Zeco, 297: 1996). At four o’clock in the afternoon of August 25, 1992, twenty-five mortar shells hit the National and University Library engulfing it in flames. To prevent the fire department, librarians and concerned citizens of Sarajevo from saving the collection, the Serb gunners fired forty mortar shells into nearby streets. Serb snipers shot at individuals who attempted to save the collection. The city filled with the smell of burning books and within two days ninety percent of the collection was lost, as well as the library catalogues, microfilm, photos, administrative records and recently installed computers (Zeco, 297: 1996).
In spite of the threat of sniper fire, the librarians and concerned Sarajevo residents formed a human chain and rescued approximately ten to fifteen percent of the library’s collection, which was located in the basement, mostly low circulation items. The saved books were stored in rented space in the Bosnian Cultural Center and the remaining library staff attempted to maintain rudimentary library service to the citizens of Sarajevo. The librarians started an intensive recataloguing and reclassification of the saved items. The National librarians worked under harsh conditions with half the number of staff as before the siege of Sarajevo and lacked basic library equipment like a photocopier and even common supplies of pencils, pens and paper. The library staff was paid twice or three times a year and basic goods like groceries and clothing were hard to find. Four library staff were killed by snipers or mortar fire by Serb artillery units in the hills outside the city (Zeco, 298-9: 1996).
Concerned librarians, archivists and scholars in Canada and the United States established the Bosnian Manuscript Ingathering Project to assist in the establishment of a database to replace items destroyed in the attack on the Oriental Institute (Riedlmayer Fighting, 1: 2001).
The war in the Republic of Croatia between June 1991 and January 1992 saw sixty-five libraries destroyed or heavily damaged. The most heavily hit were in the Slavonia region including the public libraries in the towns of Valpovo, Slavonksi Brod, Nova Gradiska, Vukovar and Vinkovci. The public library of Vinkovci was established in 1875 and was totally destroyed with the loss of 71,521 monographs and 5,000 picture books, newspapers and journals. School libraries that not only catered to schoolchildren, but to the adults of the villages as well were destroyed. Libraries in Franciscan monasteries were looted and the most valuable items removed to Belgrade. The Inter-University Center in Dubrovink was attacked by incendiary bombs on December 6, 1991 destroying all three libraries housed within its complex. Lost in the destruction was the only cataloguing system using the Library of Congress classification and the newly started dictionary catalogue (Phillips, 209: 1992).
Libraries in the Time of Guerrilla or Civil War: Columbia and El Salvador (Return to top)
Columbia is a land of inconsistencies, a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world; however, the one highest export of the nation is books. The average Columbian citizen is caught between an undeclared civil between leftwing guerrillas and government, paramilitary death squads and hit squads on the payroll of the drug cartels. The urban centre's have libraries while rural areas lack libraries altogether. The guerrilla and drug cartel violence has led to shortening of library hours and limiting of evening and night hours at most urban libraries. In the rural areas guerrillas and drug cartels leave the librarians alone, since libraries promote literacy and culture (Chepesiuk, 620-4: 1991).
El Salvador has suffered from a twelve-year civil war, which ended in 1992, and has also endured earthquakes and hurricanes. The librarians’ work under the restrictions of small budgets, poor pay and are a low priority of the government. Challenges facing El Salvadoran librarians include the conservation of scare resources, automation of library services and purchasing current material. The Universidad de El Salvador (UE
offers an undergraduate degree in library science. At present, no master’s degree is offered, for El Salvadorans interested in graduate studies in library science can enrol in distance learning from the University of Barcelona’s master program. Hardworking librarians believe that the future economic advancement of El Salvador must include libraries. As Manilo Argueta observed, “We must strengthen libraries and habits of reading. The book is like bread and tortillas—essential for life” (McPhail, 76-79: 2000).
In Matthew Loving’s interview, former Afghan library director, Latif Pedram, recalls that “the darkest day of [his] life” occurred on August 12, 1998. Taliban soldiers destroyed the library of the Hakim Nasser Khosrow Balkhi Cultural Center. The soldiers did not even open the doors of the Center; they used rocket launchers to gain entrance. The stacks were rifled with rocket launchers and machine gun fire. Books were removed and tossed in a nearby river. By end of the attack, not one book survived (Loving, 68-9: 2002).
In the beginning, the Hakim Nasser Khosrow Balkhi Cultural Center opened in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, in 1987. Open to all religious and ethnic groups, the Center included over 55,000 volumes and several rare manuscripts from the tenth century including the original illuminated Shahnameh, or Epic of Kings. The Taliban regime had two reasons to destroy the library. Firstly, it was a collection of mostly Persian writings and there was deep animosity in the mostly Pashtun Taliban regime against anything Persian. Secondly, there was a different interpretation of Islam by the Persian minority, which angered the fundamentalist Taliban (Loving, 69-70: 2002).
In 1992, Pedram used his influence to move the Hakim Nasser Khosrow Balkhi Cultural Center out of the capital and into the city of Pol-e-Khomri in an area controlled by the Northern Alliance. When Taliban forces threatened the city of Pol-e-Khomri in 1997, Pedram decided to move the books into the hills. When the Taliban forces were repulsed, the collection was returned to the Center. The Taliban issued death lists of librarians, academics and scholars of ancient Persia with Pedram on the top of the list. He was to be executed on the spot if captured by the Taliban forces. The city of Pol-e-Khomri fell to the Taliban and Pedram watched powerless as the Center was destroyed. Eight days later, he fled the city and into exile in Paris. With the collapse of the Taliban regime, Pedram hopes to rebuild his lost library (Loving, 70-1:2002).
The building housing the National Library of Afghanistan was left standing after the end of the brutal Taliban regime. The collection was plundered and the Taliban believed the people did not need books, especially tomes with illustration including children’s books. Over 80,000 books were used as fuel or for food wrappers during the five years that the Taliban controlled Kabul. The regime closed eight of eighteen public libraries and converted seven into residences. With the Taliban gone, the Afghan librarians hope to rebuild their collection and purchase computers, something they have only heard about but never seen.(Kniffel, 22-4:2002).
What can be done to prevent Lost of Collective Memories (Return to top)
The 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict was updated with a second convention in March of 1999 at The Hague. Patrick Boylan reported for the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) on the proceedings of the second Protocol, which strengthened provisions of the 1954 Act. Chapter two of the Act required the occupying power to stop and limit the removal or export of cultural property of occupied lands. Cultural institutions can only be attacked by military force if the centre is directly involved in fighting. Chapter five of the Act saw the strengthening and clarification of non-international conflicts or civil wars. It was noted that most of the destruction of cultural property since the passing of the 1954 Protocol occurred in internal conflict within a country, not by an invading or occupying foreign power. Chapter seven of the Act strengthened the educational training about the Protocol and the importance of cultural protection for future generations (Boylan, 246-7: 1999).
Dr. Lazar Sumanov reported to the IFLA Bulletin on a recent urgent regional workshop entitled “The Cultural Heritage at Risk in the Event of Armed Conflict”—, held in Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia, 20-24 February 2002. Twenty-seven proposals were passed were adopted as the Ohrid Declaration. The twenty-seven proposals were divided into large subheadings from Sumanov’s summary.
I. Activities Before The armed Conflict
a. Awareness Increase
b. Identification of Protected Assets
c. Technical Measures
d. Risk Assessment
e. Military Measures
f. Administrative Measures
g. Legal Measures
h. Bilateral Agreements on Regional Cooperation
II. Activities during the armed conflict
a. Protection Implementation Matrix
b. Physical Safeguard
d. Technical Protection
g. Conservation Measures
h. Measure of Protection
i. Cooperation of Military and Civilian Authorities
j. Personnel Identification
k. Mediation, Assistance
III. Activities After The Armed Conflict
a. National Crisis Council
b. Priority List
c. Endangered Cultural Heritage
d. Owner Information
e. Role of Religious Leaders
IV. The “Macedonia Case”
a. Concern, Condemnation, Encouragement, Appeal
b. National Blue Shield Committee (Sumanov, 157-9: 2002).
The enemies of civilization and for those want to erase the past hated the universality claims of libraries. As noted in the passage in George Bernard Shaw's play Caesar and Cleopatra between the characters of Theodotus and Caesar on burning of the library at Alexandria.
Theodotus: "What is burning is the memory of humankind."
Caesar: "A shameful memory. Let it burn."
Theodotus: (wildly) "Will you destroy the past?"
Caesar: "Ay, and build the future with its ruins" (Hamblin, 51: 1999).
The importance of libraries as a cultural right is best summed up in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. “The ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy [his/her] economic, social and cultural rights, as well [his/her] civil and political rights (Valencia, 13:2002).
As Schopenhauer observed in Parerga und Paralipomena "Books and libraries ar the only secure and lasting memory of the human race" (Hamblin, 45: 1999).
What is do done about the destruction of libraries in time of armed conflict. The recent looting of the National Museum of Iraqi in Baghdad in the recent Gulf War II highlights this issue. I propose an international Non-Governmental Organization called "Librarians Without Borders" modelled on the various professional organizations with "Without Borders" like Nobel Prize winning "Doctors Without Borders" and others like Engineers Without Borders and Teachers Without Borders.
"Librarians Without Borders (LW"
Librarians Without Borders or LWB assists in the rebuiding of libraries and archives after times of armed conflict,and natural and human-made disasters. A private, nonprofit organization, LWB is at the forefront of emergency rebuilding of public cultural institutions which house the collective knowledge of people effected by above listed calminities. Through longer-term programs, LWB hopes to assist in the training of librarians and archivists in the developing world.
Librarians Without Borders mission is to close the education divide through library professional development and community education. We work any in the world where has destruction of libraries by armed conflict, natural or human-made disasters and rebuild the lost collections of the cultural institutions. Our long-term goal is to build self-reliance and foster international dialogue across cultures and national borders.LWB is a non-denominational, non-profit, international NGO which derives its funding from individual donations, corporate contributions/grants and, to a limited extent, investments.
To maintain its operational independence and flexibility, LWB relies on the general public for the majority of its operating funds for up to eighty percent of its funding. Other financial support is provided by foundations, corporations, nonprofit organizations,the UN, UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and national library associations.international agencies like . The LWB international network collectively strives to direct at least 80 percent of its expenditures to program activities.
In the information society of the future, libraries and access to them will only become more important in the as Schopenhauer observed in Parerga und Paralipomena
"Books and libraries ar the only secure and lasting memory of the human race" (Hamblin, 45: 1999).
Barnickel, Linda. 1999. Spoils of war: the fate of European records during World War II. Archival Issues. 24: 7-20.
Boylan, Patrick. 1999. New international treaty to strengthen protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict. IFLA Journal. 25: 246-248.
Chepesuik, Ron. 1991. Columbia’s libraries: modernizing amidst a drug war. American Libraries. 22: 620-624.
Hamblin, Penelope. 1999. Alexandraia's Ashes: War and the loss of Libraries. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Kniffel, Leonard. 2002. Afghanistan reports reveal devastated libraries. American Libraries. 33: 22-24.
Lerner, Fred. 1998. The Story of Libraries: from the invention of writing to the computer age. New York: Continuum.
Loving, Matthew. 2002. The war on terror: darkest days, from exile in Paris Afghan librarian Latif Pedram relieves the nightmare. American Libraries. 33: 68-72.
McPhail, Martha E. 2000. After the War in El Salvador. American Libraries. 31: 76-79.
Phillips, Zlata F. 1992. Libraries are devastated in war-torn Croatia. American Libraries. 23: 209.
Sumanov, Lazar. 2002. Ohrid declaration on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. IFLA Journal. 28: 157-159.
Valencia, Miriam. 2002. Libraries, Nationalism, and Armed Conflict in the Twentieth Century. Libri 52: 1-15.
Van der Hoeven, Hans. 1998. Memory of the World: Lost Memory—Libraries and Archives in the Twentieth Century. Paris: UNESCO.
Waite, Robert G. 2002. Returning Jewish Cultural Property: The Handling of Books Looted by the Nazis in the American Zone of Occupation, 1945-1952. Libraries & Culture 37: 213-228.
Zeco, Munevera. 1996. The National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the current war. Library Quarterly. 66: 294-302.
LIS 583: Globalization, Diversity and Information
School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta
Originally prepared February 2003
Revised April 2003 for for Dr. Hope Olson by Andrew Fraser
Last updated on June 17, 2003
Added to Care2.com March 11. 2006