Saad Eskander

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.

5 comments on “Saad Eskander

  1. I believed at the time it was a big mistake for us to go into Iraq, but now that we are there, I am concerned about what might happen to people such as Saad Eskander and his fellow library workers in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal from the country, or do you believe they will be better off once we are gone? Here is what Mr. Eskander predicts, in the PBS interview you cite:

    “If the U.S. and British withdraw their forces from Iraq, the extremists – Shiite extremists and Sunni extremists – will prevail … Iraq will be a fundamentalist state and will be a world threat and will affect the interests of all countries, especially Western countries.”

  2. That didn’t escape my notice when I listened to the interview. I don’t have much to say other than that I have not really been following the Iraq situation for a year or so and I probably owe some attention to what knowledgeable people are writing, especially in the Iraqi intelligencia. I will say that I think it is pretty clear that Eskander is no pawn of the US, and that I think he is honestly stating his real views.

  3. It is an example of why the SRRT resolution on defunding the war was properly voted down. On the one hand, praise this librarian with his 400 staff members for their heroic work to preserve Iraq’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces, even though the very person we wish to honor says the result of that will be violent chaos and the reign of Islamic extremists in his country. Here he is, as you point out, someone who leans toward a kind of socialistic approach toward the library work environment, yet the proposed SRRT resolution would, according to him, help people who are basically ultra right wing, religious reactionaries take control over the country and destroy what Mr. Eskander and his colleagues have sought to preserve, along with probably many of their lives. But I guess if he then flees Iraq and arrives in the U.S., the ALA can present him a nice plaque in appreciation for his work.

  4. Not to discredit SRRT’s resolution to defund the war in Iraq, I do want to point out that though I agree with SRRT most of the time you shouldn’t conflate me and my views with that group. I also want to point out that I did not attend midwinter.

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