Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Literary Tragedy in the News

Over the weekend, protestors, whether accidentally or purposefully, set fire to the Egyptian Scientific Institute, which houses the richest library in Egypt and is the oldest scientific institute in the country, established in 1798 by Napoleon Bonaparte during the French invasion. According to an article in Egypt Independent, the building housing more than 200,000 books suffered substantial damage, and "state TV reported that the fire damaged the whole building and all of its collections."

The fighting during which the fire broke out was apparently between security forces and pro-democracy protestors, a number of who stepped in to help remove books from harm's way and salvage precious manuscripts. Unfortunately even some of the documents rescued from the flames were damaged by the water used to extinguish the fire.

One civilian accurately described the incident as “a national tragedy,” one which it has been estimated will take somewhere around 10 years to recover from.

The clean up itself is being managed by a group of institutions, including the Cairo University Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and the Rare Books Library of the American University in Cairo. And despite the efforts of many conservators and volunteers, large quantities of books still remain buried in the rubble and the chances of their recovery are still uncertain. I thought it was interesting that those leading the book recovery effort have placed a strong emphasis on "comparing them to the digitized copies available at the Information and Decision Support Center" in Egypt, revealing an important possibility for digital archives, and one perhaps not always thought of: digital copies as a disaster plan.

Protestors carrying armfuls of books to safety.

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