Recent postings on IFLA-L have shown that many of us are increasingly concerned about the situation of libraries in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, particularly since the burning of the Egyptian Scientific Institute of Cairo on December 17th. The FAIFE committee shares these concerns and wishes to publicly state its support for all Egyptian libraries, librarians and library users during this time of tension, and reaffirm the principles of free access to information and freedom of expression that are core values of the librarians worldwide. The committee would ask the Egyptian authorities and, more broadly, the Egyptian people to protect libraries from any damage and to create the conditions for librarians to help serve their users who now, more than ever, need access to both contemporary information and cultural heritage.
FAIFE has paid particular attention to the experiences of librarians in the Middle East in the past twelve months. A Spotlight by our Egyptian colleague Mahmoud Khalifa, focused on the use of information during the Arab Spring (http://www.ifla.org/en/publications/the-role-of-information-technology-in-defeating-the-arab-regimes-facebook-2-0-arab-pres). Former FAIFE Committee member Shawky Salem shared his diary of the 18 days that proceeded the fall of the Mubarak government (http://www.ifla.org/en/news/exclusive-faife-committee-member-s-report-from-egypt). Both Shawky Salem and the Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, spoke at the FAIFE session at the WLIC in Puerto Rico where their presentations were very well received. Dr. Serageldin himself made a statement on the IFLA website (where you can also find other news links regarding Egypt: http://www.ifla.org/en/news/statement-from-ismail-serageldin-director-of-the-library-of-alexandria-egypt). Furthermore, IFLA, in its role as a member of the International Committee of the Blue Shield, spoke out against the destruction of cultural institutions such as libraries through statements on both Egypt (http://www.ifla.org/en/news/blue-shield-statement-on-egypt) and Libya (http://www.ifla.org/en/news/blue-shield-statement-on-libya). At present IFLA, along with other Blue Shield members such as the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the international Council of Museums (ICOM), and UNESCO, is participating in discussions regarding the safeguarding of cultural heritage in Yemen and Syria. We work as hard as we can with our partners on these issues to share resources, information and expertise.
Nevertheless, if the sad events of December 17th tell us anything, it is that cultural disasters that involve libraries, whether they are pre-mediated or accidental, are sadly still common, and that institutions can often become victims of societal unrest quite out of the blue. We are now working with our colleagues in the Blue Shield, along with the staff of our regional office in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, to gather more information on the unfolding situation, and will endeavour to report back to IFLA-L when we have a better idea of the extent of the damage at the Egyptian Scientific Institute and other institutions caught up in the turmoil. In the meantime, I refer you to Danielle Mincio from the Preservation and Conservation’s excellent post on the situation which was previously sent to the IFLA-L list.
Kai Ekholm, FAIFE Chair