Life, Liberty and Libraries in Iraq the Focus of UB Lecture

Release Date: November 7, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO -- An international expert on the history of libraries as cultural heritage institutions and the recent violence to that tradition in Iraq will deliver the University at Buffalo's Bobinski Lecture Nov. 10 in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

A renowned authority on libraries' role in preserving cultural heritage, Michele V. Cloonan will discuss "Life, Liberty and Libraries in Iraq" in the lecture presented by UB's Department of Library and Information Studies in the Graduate School of Education. A reception in Cloonan's honor will be 6 p.m. The public is invited to the lecture, which begins 7:30 p.m. in the historical society at 25 Nottingham Court, Buffalo.

The history of Iraqi libraries is a microcosm of life for the country's people, according to Cloonan, dean and professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Mass.

From the 1950s until Saddam Hussein became president in 1979, Iraq enjoyed a rich cultural life, Cloonan says. Libraries and universities were growing steadily, and many Iraqis had opportunities to study abroad. Baghdad was a hub of literary activity with its many bookstores and its café culture.

Cloonan's presentation will explain how Iraq's cultural life changed under Saddam Hussein. During the nearly decade-long war with Iran, Saddam invested little in libraries and universities. Coveted positions in the once-proud agencies went to members of his Ba'athist party.

The situation became worse in the early 1990s after Saddam invaded Kuwait, according to Cloonan. International sanctions against Iraq stopped the flow of books and journals into universities. The dramatic toll on the country's physical and technological resources after the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 caused libraries to suffer even more.

Cloonan's talk considers how Iraq has been affected by the neglect and destruction of some of its cultural institutions. She will also describe recent international initiatives to aid Iraqi libraries, museums and archives.

"This issue is of enormous importance to not only Americans but all peoples worldwide," said Lorna Peterson, UB associate professor for library and information studies. "The Hague Convention asserted that 'damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind.'

"No one has a right to erase and plunder a people's memory through the destruction of cultural institutions," Peterson said. "Through the work of librarians, curators and archivists, our libraries, museums and archives are the cultural havens of humankind's creative achievements that connect each of us to our humanity -- and that should be a concern of any individual, anywhere, at anytime."

Cloonan has published extensively in preservation, book history and librarianship. She is currently writing a book on the preservation of cultural heritage. From 2004 through 2007, Cloonan worked with colleagues in the United States and Europe to train Iraqi librarians and library school educators. Their work was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Embassy in Baghdad and a private foundation in the United Arab Emirates. Cloonan is also current president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education or ALISE.

No tickets or registration are required. Call Barbara Routhier at (716) 645-2412 for additional information or go to

This lecture is supported in large part by the George and Mary Bobinski Lecture Fund, named after George Bobinski, emeritus professor and former dean of UB's School of Information and Library Studies, and Mary Bobinski, former director of the Amherst Public Libraries in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system.

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