The Harvard University Library (HUL) is beginning a new initiative to help libraries in Iraq obtain funding to revitalize collections that were neglected or destroyed during Saddam Hussein’s regime and the U.S. invasion.
In an announcement at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting, Sidney Verba ’53, Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, said HUL will focus on building Iraqi library collections relating to democracy and the democratic process.
The project comes after HUL and the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science partnered last March to offer training for Iraqi librarians.
In the new program, Harvard librarians have begun to compile lists of books and reference materials that will augment the collections in the Iraqi libraries. After Iraqi librarians indicate which books from the list they want, HUL will help them obtain the necessary funding to purchase them, according to Jeffrey Horrell, associate librarian of Harvard College for collections.
“I think Harvard, it being a player in terms of international collections, feels it’s just an important thing to do—to help strengthen the Iraqi libraries in this very difficult time and situation in which they find themselves,” Horrell said.
He said Harvard is hoping to fund the program mostly through grants from private foundations, but did not rule out the possibility of government funding.
Horrell said that American libraries commonly offer assistance to libraries in other nations that have undergone damage to their collections after political upheavals or natural disasters.
“What we’re doing is absolutely non-political and is sort of apple pie in terms of involvement in other countries,” Verba said yesterday.
Horrell said that Harvard envisioned the project as “a professional exchange of information and ideas.”
He emphasized that Harvard librarians were not seeking to impose their practices on the Iraqi libraries. “We’re not saying we have all the right answers,” he said.
In the existing collaboration with Simmons, funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard and Simmons librarians have worked mostly with librarians from Iraqi universities.
Last May, Simmons librarians met with Iraqi librarians in Amman, Jordan to discuss how to connect Iraqi libraries with current cataloguing systems.
In the next stage of the program, Horrell said Harvard and Simmons hope to invite the Iraqi librarians to the United States for training once they are able to travel.
HUL is also working with organizations in Iraq that are preserving government documents from Saddam Hussein’s regime, Verba said yesterday.
“These are all very important things that I am very committed to,” he said.
Verba said the University has tried to avoid publicizing the projects because “the people we’re working with could get into deep trouble for collaborating with the West.”
“We have been keeping the project...very low key,” Verba said. “There is really kind of a small probability that something terrible could happen.”