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IS Threat Prompts Iraq to Digitize Nat’l Library

IS Threat Prompts Iraq to Digitize Nat’l LibraryIS Threat Prompts Iraq to Digitize Nat’l Library

To preserve centuries of the written word from the possible pillage by Islamic State militants, the Baghdad National Library is rushing to scan ancient works to create digital archives.

The work undertaken by the microfilm department is truly a hefty task, as a large proportion of the collection of manuscripts are in bad shape. Over the centuries, several have either been burned or ruined by dampness. Others have even fossilized over time and now look like large rocks, RT reported.

“Those are the most difficult books to restore,” said Fatma Khudair, from the museum’s Restoration Department

“We apply steam using a specialized tool to try to loosen and separate the pages.”

Khudair noted that some damage over the years is “irreversible”. Currently, the library staff is working to preserve the documents dating back to the Ottoman Empire.

The preservation process is long and tedious. Specialists first sterilize manuscripts for 48 hours. Then, page by page, restorers use Japanese tissue paper to fill in torn edges or apply an extra layer of protection to make the paper more durable.

 “Once restoration for some of the older documents from the Ottoman era, 200 to 250 years ago, is completed, we will begin to photograph those onto microfilm,” said Mazin Ibrahim Ismail, the head of the Microfilm Department.

The need to preserve the old books first became apparent in April of 2003, after the US led-invasion of the country, when the National Library and Archives were burned and looted. More than 25% of its books and some 60% of its archives were lost.

Before the destruction, the collection held 417,000 books, 2,618 periodicals dating from the late Ottoman era to modern times and a collection of 4,412 rare books and manuscripts.

Assessing current threats to the collection, library officials have stressed that the IS ideology is by far the biggest contemporary challenge posed to rare manuscripts.

The militants “want history to reflect their own views instead of the way it actually happened”, said Jamal Abdel-Majeed Abdulkareem, acting director of Baghdad libraries and archives

One way to combat ISIS is not only to preserve the books but share the knowledge contained inside them with people who have recently suffered from a militant occupation. This year the Baghdad library donated some 2,500 books to branches in Iraq’s Diyala province after Iraqi forces took back the territory from IS militants.

“So when an area is liberated, we send them books to replenish whatever was stolen or destroyed, but also, so that Iraqis in this area have access to these materials so they can always feel proud of their rich history,” Abdulkareem said.

IS fighters take pride in publicly destroying artifacts on the territory they control in Syria and Iraq.

Sledgehammering statues stolen from the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra was by far the most talked about cultural tragedy this year. Demolishing a 13th-century tomb near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk also made headlines.

Disregarding all the international pleas to spare the ancient treasures, IS continues to regard antiquities as sacrilegious remnants of the past that deserve to be wiped off the face of the Earth. The destruction drive is always accompanied by propaganda videos and photos, as seen by the wreckage of a museum in Mosul and the destruction of archeological sites in Nimrud, Hatra and Nineveh.