LOCAL SUPPORT Gail Walker, district librarian for Carrollton Exempted Schools, is working to raise awareness of the dangerous conditions for librarians in Iraq. Walker has been corresponding with Saad Eskander, director of Iraq’s National Library and Archives, which have been nearly destroyed in the war.
REPOSITORY STAFF WRITER
Gail Walker, district librarian for Carrollton Exempted Schools, is working to raise awareness of the dangerous conditions for librarians in Iraq. Walker has been corresponding with Saad Eskander, director of Iraq’s National Library and Archives, which have been nearly destroyed in the war.
Gail Walker likens the destruction of Iraq’s National Library and Archives to the obliteration of the Library of Congress, or the Smithsonian Institution.
Walker, district librarian for Carrollton Exempted Village Schools for 25 years, is on a mission to bring attention to the plight of a distant colleague, Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library and Archives.
“I wanted to send out a ‘message in a bottle’ of sorts,” she said.
Prior to the war, archeologists and historians expressed concern over the safekeeping of Iraq’s archives. Walker said 60 percent of the nation’s library materials and 25 percent of its archives have been stolen.
Walker said she fears that Eskander, a Kurd who once fought against Saddam Hussein, could be killed for his efforts. Eskander fled to Great Britain when the Kurds were defeated, but returned when Saddam was deposed.
Walker said Eskander is trying to “fight the insurgents with culture,” but that he’s caught between the insurgents and the Iraqi National Army.
Until July, Eskander maintained an online journal detailing his attempts to restore the facility, which has been repeatedly looted, ransacked and shelled since 2003.
Walker said her interest and concern were spurred by Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Basra, Iraq, who was featured in the New York Times in July 2003, and is the subject of a real-life children’s book, “The Librarian of Basra” by Jeanette Winter. Just prior to the war, Baker removed the books from Basra’s library and stored them for safekeeping.
“I felt I did the worst thing possible, in that I didn’t do anything,” Walker said. She eventually wrote to Baker and received a postcard in return, but the two haven’t been in contact since 2005. In 2006, Walker heard through a “librarians’ grapevine” about Askander’s online journal. In March, the two began an e-mail correspondence.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” she said. “It soon became apparent that the situation is much, much worse. There’s not one page that doesn’t leave your heart broken. We don’t always think of these people as people with lives and families and children. We hear about 50 getting killed; they’re numbers to us.”
Walker said libraries are important because they are repositories of information and the one place where people can find equality.
“Democracy has to begin with culture,” she said. “The Iraq military is trying to maintain order, so culture falls at the bottom, but for him (Eskander), it’s at the heart. If Iraq is going to become a nation again, culture has to be at the bottom of it.”
What you can do
Walker, who opposed the war from the outset, urges Americans to contact their elected representatives.
“So much has been taken from these people already, through Saddam, the fighting factions and war,” she said. “We have a moral obligation to help them restore it.”
To read Eskander’s journal, visit the British Library’s Web site at: www.bl.uk
Walker may be contacted at: