Victoria Caplan, a librarian in Hong Kong, has pointed me to an article in the Boston Globe about the unofficial salvage operation that saved much of the holdings of Iraq’s National Library.
I am very happy. I want to quote the whole article. I must not. Go read it.
I believe it was all the way back in the 80s that I decided that if NYC were ever overrun with mobs of looters, the place I’d want to be is the front steps of Low Library at Columbia University, prepared if necessary to lay down my life for the holdings.
It’s not the books and other materials, the merely physical instantiations of the Word; it’s the silencing of the innumerable voices and memories the collection represents. I’ve worked as a researcher in the stacks at Low. I have some sense of how much more is in there than is dreamt of in all the card catalogues and descriptive bibliographies (not to mention the ninth-floor ghost that lurks right around where Chambers’ Cyclopaedia is shelved; but I digress).
And now the news comes that some portion of the Baghdad holdings were spared! It’s a wonderful thing. I am perfectly certain that future generations will feel the same.