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veritas Harvard University Library Notes, For Harvard Library Staff, Number 1325 May 2005

Harvard's Bosnia Library Project Sends Its Final Shipment

In 1996, the Harvard-based Bosnia Library Project began an initiative to aid the rebuilding of Bosnia-Hercegovina's war-devastated library collections. Nine years, nine shipments, and approximately 100,000 volumes later, Harvard forwarded its last direct shipment to the region in February.

"It was always my first goal only to send books and journals of significant research or literary value to Bosnia," said Jeff Spurr, Islamic and Middle East specialist in HCL's Fine Arts Library. "None of yesterday's potboilers, no self-help books, no old textbooks, no out-of-date reference works, no stray issues of journals and no hopelessly obscure material."

Spurr conceived of the Bosnia Library Project in conjunction with his colleague Andras Riedlmayer, bibliographer in Islamic art and architecture in the Fine Arts Library, after hearing Enes Kujundzic, director of Bosnia's National and University Library, describe the plight of the country's libraries at a Boston Public Library event in October 1994. Numerous Bosnian libraries had suffered loss and destruction during the war. The building that housed the National and University Library in Sarajevo was ruined, and over a million of its volumes burned. The collections of six specialized faculty libraries of the University of Sarajevo were destroyed and another four damaged. The collections of the Oriental Institute were also completely destroyed.

In order to repopulate the libraries with volumes that any university would be proud to own, the Bosnia Library Project turned to scholarly presses as well as to the Harvard College Library (HCL) Gifts and Exchange Department. "Many good individuals donated materials, modest and significant, over the years," said Spurr. "However, it was the institutional gifts, first from 21 scholarly presses, most notably those of Harvard, MIT, the University of Chicago, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins, and later from the Harvard libraries on a continuing basis, that provided the great bulk of the remarkably high-quality publications we were able to send to Bosnia's principal libraries."

Then there was the matter of actually transporting the donations to Bosnia. Spurr partnered with the Sabre Foundation, a nonprofit with experience in international book donation projects. Sabre stored the volumes in its warehouse prior to shipping—although Littauer Library served as a processing way station for many books en route to Sabre, as did Spurr's small office on occasion—and helped leverage funding support from the US government for the shipping costs. Shipping a 20-foot container of books (about 10,000 volumes) can cost as much as $18,000. The steep price tag accounts for overhead costs like storage, transportation by ship, shipment from the Croatian port, and assistance to the World University Service for receiving, storing, and distributing the materials on the other end. Two of the shipments, including this last one, involved 40-foot containers.

Donations to the cause ranged beyond books. For starters, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) funded the infrastructure (cabinets, light boxes, projectors) of a new slide library for the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Sarajevo. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard contributed complete microfilms of the Washington Post and Boston Globe, covering the 1990s, and the New York Times, from 1985 to 2001, to the National and University Library—including, notably, documentation about the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

Through the years, books were donated to Bosnia's National and University Library in Sarajevo; to the University and Public Library in Tuzla; to the Oriental Institute; and to the Faculty of Economics, the Faculty of Architecture, and the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Sarajevo, among others.

The Bosnia Library Project relied on volunteers from the start. Danila Terpanjian, head of technical services for the Social Sciences Program, was one of the first volunteers and facilitated the project's use of Littauer Library. Senior Cataloger Donna Viscuglia dedicated countless hours to processing donated books. The core book selectors, retired librarians organized by Alan Erickson, retired head of Cabot Science Library, culled books from the now-defunct HCL Gifts and Exchange Department. Amanda Bowen, head of collection management in the Fine Arts Library, contributed high-quality duplicates over the years from the Fine Arts Library.

As the project comes to its end, Spurr notes that while it's partly due to space and funding issues, it's also because the project has been largely a success. For the time being, the Oriental Institute's library has as many books and journals as its site can handle, and the staff at the National and University Library has considerable processing and cataloging still ahead of it.

In April, Spurr will visit Bosnia for the first time. "It was difficult to know in advance what we could accomplish," he admits. "But with the help of all the people who put in time, typically unsung in any sense, we achieved something good. I hope to find when I get there that these books have been unpacked, processed, cataloged, and are on shelves awaiting use. The ultimate gratification will be to go there and see the students and scholars making use of the materials."


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