Michael Dowling of the ALA Chapter Relations Office has forwarded to the IFLA list a link to an audio version of a PBS interview with Saad Eskander, the new head of the Iraqi National Library and Archives. The interview is about 18 minutes long and extremely interesting.
We in the U.S. talk about running libraries under adverse conditions and praise one another for our dedication, but Eskander’s obstacles and dedication are orders of magnitude greater (and the same can be said of his 400 staff members, who risk their lives every day for the preservation of Iraq’s cultural heritage and the provision of information service).
Eskander tells stories about such things as the kidnapping of one of his librarians, the looting that took place just as the occupation was beginning, and U.S. policy errors in setting up the interim government and how they have increased Iraq’s difficulties presently.
The most interesting thing Eskander talks about, in my view, however, is the effort he has undertaken to promote democratic governance within the Iraqi National Library and Archives itself. He has apparently made radical changes to the way the place is run, including the institution of a system for the election of division heads by staff, rather than their appointment from above. Normally we do not see this kind of workplace democracy outside of socialist countries. In addition, he is also promoting women librarians as professionals in quite a high-profile way, and talks about it in relation to the need for real democracy in Iraq to come from the people.
Eskander has been keeping a diary of his experience at the National Library since last November, and it is being published on the web by the British Library. It is interesting reading that provides insights into the challenges faced by the cultural sector in Iraq.
I consider Eskander to be a true library hero, and I think he deserves to be honored by the American library community in some way.