A Personal Account By Zeinab Mansour
As the Washington, DC Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) celebrates its 75th Jubilee, it is important to reflect on the tremendous role the association plays as an internationally-minded organization. We have affirmed our commitment to international issues since the association’s creation in September 1940 and provided a forum for major global issues of concern. One cannot ignore its extraordinary efforts through the years, most significantly, the “Global 2000 Initiatives.” The association played a vital role in reaching out to librarians from developing countries, providing educational and training opportunities in order to enhance their professional development. Over the past year, we have focused on war-threatened areas.
The information professionals took a stand against the recent destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. The March 10, 2015 rally in front of the White House included activists and diplomats protesting the brutal and systematic destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. The information professionals were among the crowd carrying banners and calling on the international community to condemn such devastating destruction to world heritage sites. The protesters urged the international community not to standby and witness such destruction: indeed, it is “a war crime against humanity,” as stated by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.
Continuing on this theme, on October 1, 2015, a forum was convened at the Bloomberg BNA in Crystal City, Virginia. The program, entitled “World Cultural Heritage Sites at Risk: Preservation Efforts in Iraq & Syria” included three prominent speakers who shared their stories of their roles in preservation efforts.
The forum began with the moderator of the program, Mr. Michael Albin, retired Librarian at the Library of Congress who once served in Egypt and participated in the preservation efforts in Iraq. Mr. Albin discussed the “Vulnerability of Libraries & Archives and Ongoing Efforts in Restoration of What’s Been Damaged.”
The second speaker was Mr. George Papagiannis, External Relations & Information Officer in UNESCO New York Office. In his presentation, entitled, “Legal and Organizational Contribution of UNESCO to the Preservation of Antiquities in Iraq & Syria,” Mr. Papagiannis shared his passion for collaboration on this important issue and UNESCO’s critical role.
The final speaker was Dr. Mary Jane Deeb, Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress. She shared her work on the historic and cultural importance of specific sites in Iraq and Syria.
The audience included information specialists, Middle Eastern scholars and cultural activists, all united in the urgency to counter the systematic destruction of heritage of mankind. The question and answer session expressed the audience’s great concern for the international community to act and form a united front to face this major threat to the world’s treasures.
The remarkable forum reflects the association’s role in raising awareness of crucial global issues in mobilizing support among members of the international community. It constitutes a call for partnership to face together the grave threat to the world’s cultural heritage. By providing such a forum, the association has strengthened its global voice.
In this celebration of the 75th Jubilee, it is also a recognition of the association’s triumph in its evolving role as a true player of global dimensions.
[Zeinab Mansour, Retired Librarian, The Peterson Institute for International Economics.
She is a member of the DC/SLA International Relations and Encore Caucus.]