Centers of education are often the first places destroyed by war, so it’s no surprise that when ISIS took control of Mosul and declared its caliphate in 2014, the well-respected University of Mosul was quickly targeted. Founded in 1967, the university’s library contained 200,000 volumes, most of which were destroyed when ISIS burned down the structure.
Prior to this, they used the library as a gathering spot, rounding up the university’s professors and forcing them to rewrite textbooks for a new education system under the caliphate. And now that Iraq’s prime minister has declared the end of the caliphate, anonymous blogger Mosul Eye is continuing his crusade to rebuild the library’s collection.
The blogger, who hides his identity to protect himself and his family, fled Mosul in 2016 but has continued to chronicle life in the city under ISIS. The graduate of the University of Mosul was working at the university when the city fell, and the library holds special meaning to him. “Whenever I was in the university, I would spend most of my time at the library,” he said. “When I didn’t like my professors’ lectures, I often went to the library to do research and study books on my own.”
As a step toward rebuilding, he is calling on the international community to donate books in all languages. “Because rebuilding the libraries and filling them back with books is one of the most significant forms of rebuilding Mosul civilly, we launch this international campaign to collect books and all types of printed products (magazines, periodicals, newspapers, references, archives, and the like) in all disciplines of Knowledge and Science,” he explains on his website.
And soon, donations began pouring in, both from Iraq and abroad. These will be added to the 2,000 volumes that survived the library’s destruction, some of which are rare books and manuscripts. In Baghdad, an event was held, asking citizens to purchase books from a street market, which were then donated to the library. The help also comes from abroad, with the initiative receiving books from Australia, the United States, and countries across Europe.
Mosul Eye reports that about 10,000 books have been donated so far. The aim is to arrive at 200,000 for the reopening of the library. Donations are currently being shipped to the city of Irbil, where volunteers are sorting and cataloging the new collection. All subjects are welcome, but they are especially looking for books on medicine, science, and the humanities.
In the United States, the Minnesota-based Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project is collecting book donations to cover shipping. Meanwhile in Europe, a French NGO, Entraide et Coopération en Méditerranée, has pledged to send a shipping container of materials.
Though some of the precious materials in the library can never be recovered, Mosul Eye reminds us that rebuilding the space is an important step in Mosul’s future. “We need to reconnect Mosul again with the rest of the world,” he shared. “We will need the world to take the same amount of interest it has after ISIS took over the city. Don’t abandon us now.”
When the portion of the city where the library is located was liberated in January 2017, volunteers entered the burned library to see if they could recover any of the collection.
The university library held 200,000 volumes prior to its destruction at the hands of ISIS.
They were able to recover about 2,000 books, including hundreds of rare books and manuscripts.
The original collection contained important materials, including historic maps and periodicals from the Ottoman era, and ancient Islamic manuscripts, including a ninth-century Qur’an.
Anonymous blogger Mosul Eye has helped launch a campaign to rebuild the library. Donations have poured in from Baghdad and abroad, including the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
Especially needed are texts, in any language, about medicine, science, and the humanities.
Volunteers work tirelessly to sort and catalog the 10,000 books that have been received for the new library. They are hoping to arrive at 200,000 donations in time for the reopening at the beginning of 2018.
In May 2017, Mosul Eye organized a cultural festival in front of the library, where participants were asked to bring a book as their entry fee. Several hundred books were collected in one day. “We don’t know each other, but all of us came together because we believe in Mosul.”
Interested in helping?
All images via Mosul Eye except where noted.
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