Essential Libraries: 2019 National Book Festival

Essential Libraries: 2019 National Book Festival


[ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: And
thank you, Shawn. Lovely and I’m so pleased. And I have to tell that I
pulled a few strings to meet and be able to talk with one
author that I have quoted for years, and another author
who has one of the titles, the best books, “Bad-Ass
Librarians”. [ Cheering and Applause ] “Of Timbuktu”. You know that when I first went
in a bookstore and saw that, I just [inaudible]
it’s something. So this is just a delight and
we’re calling this conversation, and we hope it will
be a conversation, and that you’ll join in, too, Essential Libraries
for a Reason. And that’s because libraries
have played a special role in many, many cultures
for many, many years. And I’ve had the
privilege of working in challenged communities where libraries were actually
lifelines for so many people. And with the Library
of Congress, we are extending
our role in terms of being the world’s largest
library, but with so many things and how can we reach out? And the Book Festival
is part of that. Now the two books, and excuse me
if I say this title many times. [ Laughter ] “The Bad-Ass Librarians
of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most
Precious Manuscripts”. And I was surprised
though that the Library of Congress has a connection to
the city of Timbuktu in Mali. Back in 2004, the Library
of Congress entered into a cooperative agreement
with a major library in Timbuktu to digitize and make available
online important manuscripts and many of them were rescued
and the subject of your book. And we also put some of the
manuscripts on tour, world tour.>>Joshua Hammer: Yeah. It was pretty much the first
exposure of the manuscripts of Timbuktu in the
United States, yeah. The first time that people
anywhere here had an opportunity to see what was out there. Before that it had been
kind of just a secret.>>Carla Hayden: Well, we are
going to talk a little bit more about that and other
author, Alberto Manguel. Once had a personal
library and I know many of you have personal libraries. I’m just guessing. [ Laughter ] Of more than 35,000
books, 35,000 books.>>Alberto Manguel: And growing.>>Carla Hayden:
And still growing because once you’re a book
lover [inaudible], you just, I have ten more books today. But when you left
your house — .>>Alberto Manguel: Yeah,
we sold it in France and we moved to New York. And in New York we have
an apartment the size of this table. [ Laughter ] So 35,000 books don’t fit there. So they’re in boxes awaiting
the day of their resurrection.>>Carla Hayden: Where?>>Alberto Manguel: In Montreal.>>Carla Hayden: And now
you’re is about that.>>Alberto Manguel: Yeah.>>Carla Hayden:
“Packing My Library”.>>Alberto Manguel:
That’s right. And it’s called “An Elegy
and Ten Digressions”.>>Carla Hayden: Yes. So I want to share with people
why I have quoted you for years.>>Alberto Manguel: Yeah. Well, I always grew
up among books. I always consider myself a
reader rather than a writer. But before I get into that,
I have something to say if you will excuse me. We’re all here talking
about books, enjoying the magnificent
gestures of the Library of Congress. But some few hundred kilometers from here there is a
concentration camp for children that was set up in Texas where the children not only
don’t have access to books, but they are, many of
them, sexually abused. They sleep on cement floors. And six of them have
already died. So that is happening within
the confines of this country. So we can talk about books
and importance of books and the Library of
Congress is a lighthouse of what we hope this
country will one day become. But right now this is happening
and we won’t be able to say like the Germans said of the concentration camps
during the Nazi times, “We didn’t know”. So we know and we’re not
doing anything about it. [ Applause ]>>Carla Hayden: The
section of your book, “A History of Reading”,
which is now in paperback and when it came out,
it was really something because it has different
chapters about optics, different things that
are very interesting. But the chapter that
really struck me especially in the public library world
was called “Forbidden Reading”. And the photograph
that introduces that chapter has an image
of a woman who looks like she was probably a slave.>>Alberto Manguel: Mm-hmm.>>Carla Hayden: And
she’s standing in front of a structure, a
very crude structure, and she’s holding a book. And this section that I quote, and I’ll paraphrase it right
now, says that, “As centuries of dictators, slave owners,
and other elicit holders of power have always known, an illiterate crowd is
the easiest to rule. And if you cannot prevent
people from learning to read, the next best recourse
is to limit its scope”.>>Alberto Manguel: Quite.>>Carla Hayden: And
then it goes on to talk about instances of that. And so, Joshua, your book
kind of touches on that theme.>>Joshua Hammer: Yeah. Yeah. I think the jihadists
who took over Timbuktu knew that they were taking over
a city that was synonymous with culture on the continent
that had a vibrant secular and religious culture going
back to the fourteenth century. They knew that, thanks to
the efforts of a handful of these librarians
in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s that it had really
kind of recaptured its identity as a center of culture. These books had been gathered
up from around the desert and placed in libraries
across the city. And Westerners were
coming to visit. Scholars were coming to visit. Malians were coming to visit. So it had reclaimed its identity as an intellectual
capital really.>>Alberto Manguel: Many of
these books were Koranic books.>>Joshua Hammer: There were. It was a combination. I mean I think perhaps had it
been, in fact, I think that the, originally these books were
produced by Koranic schools. So, and the first books that
were copied and distributed in Timbuktu in, you
know, the eleventh and twelfth centuries
were Korans, and the Hadith, and
religious texts. But gradually over
the next 100, 200, 300 years it developed this, you
sort of had a religious culture and a secular culture. You had books, as I
write in my book, about, manuscripts about music,
about science, about medicine, about history, books that
did not directly address God, that essentially celebrated
human achievement outside of the realm of religion. And this was the culture
that the jihadis entered into when they captured
the city in 2012. And although they didn’t
immediately declare war on the manuscripts, it was
pretty clear to the librarians and everybody in the city that
they would at some point get around to destroying
them because they saw it as a threat to their rule. Yes.>>Alberto Manguel: You
describe it so movingly. I really was touched by — .>>Joshua Hammer: Thank you.>>Alberto Manguel: What you
can read like a thriller. You want to know whether they
will destroy these books or not.>>Joshua Hammer:
Well, of course — .>>Carla Hayden:
Could you just go over the basic outline
so people — ?>>Joshua Hammer: Of
the tale essentially?>>Carla Hayden: Yeah, the tale.>>Joshua Hammer: The
story itself, yes. Well, in fact, although
immediately it wasn’t clear that they were after
the masters, they did pretty quickly begin to destroy aspects
of Timbuktu culture. They destroyed shrines. They destroyed, mostly they
were attacking the shrines and mosques of the Sufi culture
of Timbuktu which was anathema to the jihadists’
interpretation of Islam. So it was pretty clear that at
some point they were going to go after the manuscripts as well. The character in my
book, the protagonist, Abdel Kader Haidara, who
came from a long line of librarians going
back hundreds of years, who had many books,
many manuscripts in his family’s collection,
and was totally devoted to the written word, sort of
took on the role of protector. He concocted a scheme with
fellow librarians first to take these books
out of the libraries, libraries that had been created
over the last decade with money from the Ford Foundation, with
money from Western European, with European, American, and Middle Eastern
foundations and governments. So the first idea was to take
these manuscripts and move them out of the libraries where
they were obvious targets. So this was a couple
of month process that involved stealthily taking
them in the middle of the night, finding friends who
would be willing to secrete the books inside
their cellars, basements, warehouses, whatever, out
of reach of the jihadis. And this is where the
manuscripts remained for the first couple of months. The jihadist war
against culture, war against the occupied
continued. They started carrying out acts
of violence, sharia justice, chopping off hands, chopping
off legs, executing people. Things were heating up there. The librarians including
Abdel Kader quickly, well, by that point realized that perhaps it’s
not safe enough just to leave them in the city. So the next step became to
somehow get them out of Timbuktu and move them south across
the desert, semi-desert, to government territory. So sort of brazenly going
passed the checkpoints, innocently hiding books
inside trucks and Jeeps, and eventually boats, and making
this massive smuggling operation over the course of several
months involving 250,000, 300,000 manuscripts to get
them to the safety of Bamako which was in government hands and where they would
presumably be safe. So that’s the story. The book essentially relates
how these ordinary fellows, teenagers, librarians,
or the ordinary people of Timbuktu got together to
outwit the jihadist occupiers and preserve their culture,
preserve their identity.>>Carla Hayden: And I must
tell you, as a librarian, to hear librarians
concocting something, and they were being stealth,
and they were doing all of this. You all don’t know librarians. We have t-shirts
that say “Librarians: Feisty Fighters for Freedom”.>>Joshua Hammer: Yeah.>>Alberto Manguel: They are.>>Joshua Hammer: Yeah. When I was — . [ Inaudible ]>>Carla Hayden: When the
going gets tough, we get — .>>Joshua Hammer: I knew I hit a
nerve when I got to Dallas back in 2016 when the book came
out and I got to Dallas for the Book Festival
and I was greeted by about 30 librarians
all wearing “Bad-Ass Librarians”
buttons on their shirts.>>Carla Hayden: Yes. Yes. You did a lot for
our image, you really did. And I got a chance
to meet the hero.>>Joshua Hammer:
I know you did.>>Carla Hayden: Was at NYU. He received a honorary
degree this year.>>Alberto Manguel: Wonderful.>>Carla Hayden: And
was just really — .>>Joshua Hammer: He’s
also quite an operator, by the way, you know.>>Carla Hayden: Oh is he?>>Joshua Hammer: Oh, yeah. He’s an operator in addition
to being a heroic figure. He sort of has, yeah, played
that up quite a bit and, you know, managed, I think
not for personal gain, but for the benefit
of his libraries.>>Alberto Manguel:
But the meek, silent librarian is a
fictional character.>>Joshua Hammer: Oh, yeah. There’s nothing meek
about these guys.>>Alberto Manguel: I
don’t think I’ve ever met a meek libarian. [ Laughter ]>>Carla Hayden:
We hide it well.>>Alberto Manguel: There
is a wonderful story because your character is
heroic in so many ways, but, for instance, during the
Nazi occupation of Paris, when the Allies entered, Nabokov’s sister
was a librarian. With the Germans trying to
flee and the Allies coming in, she ran around to the houses of
Germans who had borrowed books from her library
to get them back. [ Laughter and Applause ] That’s a bad-ass librarian. [ Laughter ]>>Carla Hayden: And I’m sure
you’ve had experiences working with librarians in
your careers and lives. Do you remember any of them?>>Joshua Hammer: I
remember, my guy I feared most in my high school was the
high school librarian. He was the, he was a touch guy,
huge disciplinarian, big guy, and probably most aggressive
of the teachers of the school so I don’t have any
illusions of meek. Meek and librarian don’t
go together my mind, no.>>Carla Hayden: Oxymoron.>>Alberto Manguel: Primo
Levi tells about the librarian at the University of Turin
who had ordered the books so carefully he didn’t
want anyone to take them out because he didn’t
want the order destroy. But it is so moving to see
how librarians are essential to someone’s life. There are so many stories,
not only from writers, but from ordinary people
whose life has changed because of a librarian, because
of the librarian understanding this need we have to relate to
the past, to find our identity in literature, and to learn
empathy, to learn decency and civic responsibilities
through stories that we love. I, my favorite character, one
of my favorite characters, is Little Red Riding Hood
because she’s the example of civil disobedience. Her mother tells her to go to
her grandmother’s house and, no, she goes to the forest,
picks flowers. But without that civil
disobedience there wouldn’t be any story. There wouldn’t be any wolf. It would be terribly boring. [ Laughter ]>>Carla Hayden: I never thought of Little Red Riding
Hood like that. I started as a children’s
librarian and I must say that’s a — .>>Alberto Manguel: Bad-Ass
Little Red Riding Hood.>>Carla Hayden: All right. [ Laughter ] We all love to say that. And so with the great libraries
and the library in Timbuktu, are you still in touch
with any of the people?>>Joshua Hammer: I haven’t
been back there since 2014. But I have, the book is being
turned into, it’s about to come out as a documentary
film in the winter with the same title, of course.>>Carla Hayden: Oh, nice.>>Joshua Hammer: And
so through the director who actually filmed the, made
the film stealthily in Timbuktu, shot it on location, which
is an incredible achievement. So I’ve gotten a feeling
for what the atmosphere is like there, which
is still not good. I know that Abdel Kader
Haidara has still not begun to return the books, that
the libraries are still all shut down. There are no tourists. There are no scholars. There are no people
going up there. It’s been that way
really, it’s now six years since the jihadis were
thrown out and it’s still, I mean when the director and his
tiny camera crew went up there, they had to arrange through the, they got United Nations
transport because there are no
flights going in there. They got the help of the U.N.
in providing them with security. They had to keep the
entire mission clandestine. And they wanted to
actually film, to recreate in the documentary
the jihadist takeover of the city and were
going to do it on location when they were warned that
perhaps the idea of a convoy of 100 vehicles flying black
jihadi flags across the desert of Mali as a documentary
reenactment might not go down well with trigger-happy
Malian troops and U.N. peacekeepers. So they restaged
that part in Morocco. So, yeah, the whole
situation — . [ Laughter ] The whole situation
remains in limbo and as far as I know not a single
library has since opened. The books are still sitting
in Bamako in storage waiting to be transported up the river by boat whenever
that day will come. Yeah. But it’s really
amazing because I remember in two thousand — and when I
visited the country in 2008, when there were something
like 45 libraries, this desolate city had,
I had visited in ’95 and it was a truly
desolate place. It was coming off a Tuareg
war, completely cut off from the world in 2008, largely
on, thanks to these libraries and thanks as well
to the opening up of the Malian Music Festival,
the Festival in the Desert, the place had been
completely transformed into this cultural hub. As I said, when I got there
you had scholars from Germany, from Norway coming to
see the manuscripts. Tourists were coming, you
know, I mean everybody from backpacking French to,
you know, middle aged tourists, Americans on package tours
coming up to Timbuktu just to see the libraries it was
such a spectacular achievement, you know, and it’s
all, of course, gone. Yeah. But it was a window of
about four or five years — .>>Carla Hayden:
That was something.>>Joshua Hammer: When
you had that going on.>>Carla Hayden: And
that’s a national loss. And you worried about
a personal loss.>>Alberto Manguel: Mm-hmm.>>Carla Hayden: You mentioned
your books are waiting to be resurrected?>>Alberto Manguel: Well, no. The situation was simply a
bureaucratic mess and we had to leave France and
pack the books. But they are there. I hope that I will be
able to set them up again. But life balances things
out because at the same time that we were leaving
the library, I was appointed Director of the
National Library of Argentina. So I packed 40,000 books and
inherited about ten million. Now I must say, and I suppose
you share this, that as director of a library, you read far less
and you write far less than ever in your life because you are too
busy administrating and dealing with bureaucracy and
trying to raise funds and all these boring things. And there are the
books tempting you.>>Carla Hayden:
They are right there.>>Alberto Manguel: But
you realize how important, I go back to your
Bad-Ass Librarians. We have so many examples of
libraries being the center that holds society together
and also heals society. In Mexico there is an
extraordinary phenomenon called [foreign language spoken] and
maybe you know about this. It’s grassroots libraries
that spring up especially in locations of great violence,
and drug dealings, and so on. And it is mainly women
who constitute I think 80% of the readers of this world. And they, in their homes, they
set up reading groups and a sort of communal library,
not 40,000 books but a much more important
library of maybe 20, 30 books. And people come there,
especially young people, and this is extraordinary. The level of violence diminishes
by something between 70 and 80%. This is what a library can do. And, yes, that’s why
I think librarians, real librarians are the heart
throb of any civilized society.>>Joshua Hammer: So I was just
listening to this and thinking about the universality of
libraries and the meaning that they seem to have
across all societies. And that really hit home
to me early on in 2006 when I first met Abdel Kader
Haidrara and he had been talking about that what was going on
in Timbuktu was actually echoed in really far more remote — . I mean you think
Timbuktu is remote, that was actually the hub
of the north, you know. But he said, “Go out. I’ll arrange a trip for you out into the distant
corners of the desert”. And he arranged a trip for me
and we drove for about 150 miles to the middle of nowhere,
godforsaken desert, patch of desert,
Tuareg encampment. And this old guy, I met this
old man, and he just sort of beckoned, “Come this
way,” and he took me into a darkened shed and opened
the door and there was a trunk and he opened the trunk
and, you know, this was, and there was a pile of manuscripts dating back
500-600 years that they had, there had been Tuareg
wars, instability, they had buried these
in the desert but it was a period of calm. They’d returned them
to the village. This was the library. It was a shed with a box. But it had 50 or 60 of
these ancient books in it. And I opened it and they
have, pages were kind of fluttering away as I
opened them, but magnificent. One was a Koran and it had
these magnificent drawings. You know, I was looking
at things that no other Westerner had ever
seen from 500-600 years ago, of the Great Mosque of Mecca. And others were secular
volumes but you could just see that this was, of all the things
in this village, this collection in this trunk was what
gave them meaning and hope, and it was the history
of the village, the history of the people in it, the shared knowledge all
contained in this place and it really, it hit me
then about, in whatever form, libraries in every culture
are just fundamental to that culture.>>Alberto Manguel: We
have to remember also that there are societies
that have a oral culture.>>Carla Hayden: Yes.>>Alberto Manguel: And for
those societies the library is the memory of the elders
and the people responsible in the community. But it is true that for
the society, the societies of the book, the library
holds not only the memory of that society, but also
the identity of its readers. And if you want to
know who you are, the library is there
to tell you. Richard [Inaudible] whom
you know, the director of the [inaudible] library, he gave me once I think the
best definition of a library. He said, “The library is
the place of evidence”. So if you want to know the fact,
if you want to understand false, truth, and lies that are out
there in society and in our time where a fact seems to have
exactly the same weight as an invented story, the
library has the documents, will tell you, “We
won’t make up your mind for you but it’s there. You can come and see it”.>>Carla Hayden: And my
words of, and proponents of making sure that voices from
all different cultures — .>>Alberto Manguel: Yes. Mm-hmm.>>Carla Hayden: Are
encouraged to be there. Because I remember my first and
I talk about this when I say, “What’s your favorite book?” I say, “Well, it’s the
book that really — .” There was a library in a
storefront in Jamaica, Queens, so I was about seven
or eight, and PS 96 and a storefront library, and I don’t know what librarian
put this book in my hand but it was “Bright April”.>>Alberto Manguel: Oh.>>Carla Hayden: And it was
the first time I saw myself in a book because it was a
little African-American girl with two pigtails. And she was a Brownie. I was a Brownie. And I loved to read but
I had never seen myself. And if we say that
books are so important, and we tell young people this, and they don’t see
themselves reflected in it, what does that say? So books should be
windows of the world but there should
also be mirrors. And it’s important to make sure that when we develop the
libraries and [inaudible] that we have those voices and we make sure
people are represented.>>Alberto Manguel: There
has to be that diversity because otherwise you rely
on what is there with readers which is the capacity
of translating the story that doesn’t represent
you into your own. So a gay child would read “Romeo
and Juliet” as “Romeo and Romeo” or “Juliet and Juliet”. Or a Black child will
identify Ann of Green Gables and turn her red hair into
the hair of her color. We have all done that.>>Carla Hayden: We’ve had
to of a certain age but now and that’s what’s so
wonderful at the Book Festival and I see the variety of
authors, and illustrators, and people, and the
young people reflected. Different experiences what
we’ve been able to do. We think we need to do it. Now I know that we have
an opportunity for people to ask some questions
or make some comments and so we have a couple
of microphones here. And if people would like to come
up and while you’re doing that, and I hope you do, when you,
that chapter, Forbidden Reading, I want to get back to
that, and your book about the experience
in Timbuktu. How did those dictators and
other elicit holders of power, they knew that reading
was power.>>Alberto Manguel: Well, in
just a brief historical note, in 1660 the King of England
decided following Protestant ethics that everybody
should read because you can read your Bible
and so there was an instruction to slave owners to teach
their slaves to read. And the slaves owners,
especially in South Carolina, they were the most
virulently opposed to that. And they decided that
anyone who taught a slave to read would be punished
and the slave for trying to read would be flogged or
have his or her fingers cut off and then on the third
try, put to death. And what is so moving is the
strategies that the slaves found to read, that they would
tell a White kid, “Oh, how beautiful what
they are doing. Show me what you’re doing. I’m so proud of you,” and so on. So the kid would show them
how they formed letters and that’s how they
learned to read. I find it — sorry — I banged
the microphone it’s so moving.>>Carla Hayden:
Frederick Douglas talks about that in his autobiography.>>Alberto Manguel: Yeah.>>Carla Hayden: He knew
that and his famous saying, “Once you learn to read,
you’ll be forever free”. And, in fact, when
people say, “Oh, you’re the fourteenth Librarian
of Congress since 1802. You’re the first female in a feminized profession
librarianship, that’s very important. But also though, the
first person of color”. And I prepared some speech parts about these laws
for my swearing in. And I was going to list
them all, you know, amputation and all like that. And then I was reminded
gently by my mom that that could be a downer. [ Laughter ] At your swearing in. Just say how significant it is. Because but the list was long. The list was so long.>>Alberto Manguel: So long.>>Carla Hayden: Of that. That was something. So we — .>>Alberto Manguel: Anyway congratulations
on the intention.>>Carla Hayden: Oh, yes. Yes. She knows how to
edit me even today. [ Laughter ]>>I’d like to hear
the reflections of the authority figures
here on the ultimate impacts of the trend toward digitization
and the way in which, on the one hand, it may
make more things accessible to more people, but on
the other hand, the book, as such, may be in jeopardy. So could we hear some
thoughts about that?>>Carla Hayden: Got some
real thoughts about that.>>Alberto Manguel: I
don’t read digital books. I don’t have a portable phone. And I use my computer
as a typewriter. But when I became Director
of the National Library of Argentina, my first
mission was, first of all, to digitize the catalog
that wasn’t fully digitized. But second, to digitize
as many texts as we could to have an equivalent virtual
library of the holdings that we had because we were
located in Buenos Aires. Argentina is a very vast country
and we were the national library of every Argentinian and
they should have access to everything. And it was very important
also for aleatory reasons. For instance, I, the holdings
we have, for instance, of the native communities
in Argentina were cataloged in the nineteenth century
so some are under “Indians” and some are under “savages”. So obviously this
need to be rehauled. And I wanted to do this
working with the leaders of the different
native communities. It was incredibly complicated because they have no
political power in Argentina. But one of the ways of doing
it is digitizing those holdings as they do in Canada,
they do in Australia, and so they digitize the
holdings, they send them back to the community and the
community decides what can be shown, what can be read by
whom, and what these things are because in the nineteenth
century they said this is a cup and maybe it was a ritual
vase or something else. So digitization for the
society is absolutely essential, equivalent to what printing
meant at the time of Guttenberg. But I am a private citizen
who is over 70 years old and I like my little routine
and so, yes, I still don’t read
digitized books.>>Carla Hayden: And
you’d be heartened to see in the children’s stage,
and the teenage stage, all the young people
that are there waiting to get their books signed,
and their graphic novels, and just waiting, and waiting, and so there is still
a book culture and a physical aspect as well.>>Joshua Hammer: I would say in
the case of the great libraries of Timbuktu there’s
a recognition just because of the age and the
condition of these books that there had to — . Early on Henry Louis Gates
was up there in the late 90’s and one of the first
things he said when he met Abdel
Kader Haidara was, “We’ve got to start a
digitization program. We’re going to give you a
million dollars to do that”. so Abdel Kader Haidara
took the million dollars and built a physical
library instead. That’s what he really wanted. He wanted the building. He wanted the books on display. He wanted to be the, a bit of an
ego maniac and he like the idea of people coming to
physically see his books. But right now things
have changed. Things have changed. And it’s now, it
is a combination. I mean I think there’s a
recognition that you have to digitize and there’s massive
digitization program going on for these hundreds
of thousands of books. But the books themselves
are treasures, you know, they’re just spectacular,
beautiful books. I mean the gold leaf, and the
designs, and the calligraphy are so fantastic that in itself
the hard, you know, the actual, physical books there’s
a recognition. Put a few of them on display. Digitize everything. Make some of them available just
to simply look at and appreciate in these physical libraries. And have a balance. So that’s what’s going on except for there is no physical
library right now but that’s the hope, you know.>>Carla Hayden: Yes, ma’am.>>Yes. I’m curious about
how you came about this story in the first place,
how you found out that the librarians
were doing this effort. And when you there in 2014,
what your experience was like.>>Joshua Hammer: So I had been,
I was a bureau chief in Africa for “Newsweek” in
the 90’s, early 90’s, and I traveled all
over the continent. And that’s when I discovered
Mali for the first time. Really an interesting
place in a lot of ways. So and then when I became a
freelance writer a decade later, I just happened to see
a small article in 2006 about the manuscripts of Mali
and new effort being made to recover them from the
desert, to preserve them. A lot of them were in
a state of disrepair. Intrigued, you know, I was
intrigued by Mali to begin with. I went up there in 2006. I met Abdel Kader Haidara
for the first time. Spent about a week up there and wrote a long piece
for “Smithsonian”. Kept going back to
Mali and Timbuktu. And then in 2012, when the
jihadists invaded the country, my first thought actually
was, “I wonder what is going to happen to these manuscripts? They probably – .” I had a hunch that
they were in danger. I couldn’t reach Abdel Kader. I had envisioned that he would
probably have planned something like taking them out to
the desert and burying them but I had no way
of reaching him. It wasn’t until a year later,
2013, that I got back in tough and discovered what had
been going on and that led to a magazine piece, another
“Smithsonian” magazine piece, and then when Abdel Kader
said he would be happy to tell me his whole life story,
which I really didn’t even know at that point, but we
went ahead and did a book. And it was in 2014,
well, it was, you know, this was a year after, I visited
in August 2013 five months after the French had
chased the jihadis out of the north of Mali. And then came back again
to do more book research in the winter of 2014. It was very raw, the
place was, you know, I mean the jihadis had
been there for a year. They’d created incredible
physical and emotional psychic damage. Plus they were still scattered
around in the bush but I had to get up to Timbuktu to
talk to people and find out what was going on. So that involved some
pretty hair raising trips through the desert hoping
that I wouldn’t be waylaid and kidnapped as
about ten Westerners over the previous
few years had been. And, in fact, even now
there are a couple of them, almost all of them have
been released on ransom, but there are two or three who
have been in these jihadi camps for more than a decade
which is hard to imagine. So it definitely crossed
my mind that I ran a risk of ending up one of them.>>Carla Hayden: The
book is like a thriller. It is a thriller. We have time for one more. Well, we have to
go on this side.>>Hi. Speaking of the desert
and burying books there, I was a volunteer
in the Gobi desert where they’re still digging
up dinosaur bones and texts that were buried there. And they were lost and forgotten
by a generation that passed on. I’m wondering if either of
you can speak to the effect on either a community or an
individual that’s had to make that hard decision to dismantle
their library and hide it and maybe never see it again.>>Carla Hayden:
Well, and you’re — .>>Joshua Hammer: You
want to take that one? [ Laughter ]>>Carla Hayden: Yeah, your — .>>Alberto Manguel: I
hope I will it again. But it’s heartbreaking. Your library is what you
are, at least in my case. It holds memories of
every moment of my life, of my friends, of the most
important discoveries I’ve made that gave me words to name
my experience of every day. So to put them away was
really heartbreaking which is why I called
the book an elegy. But at the same time, I
added ten digressions. First of all, because I can’t
think in a straight line but because I wanted to speak
of the different aspects, what loss signifies for a
reader, what memory signifies because you have to begin
to rely on the texts that you remember and a
little bit like Bradbury’s men in “Fahrenheit 451”, you
become the books you have read. And so all those aspects are
there in my book with the hope, and I insist on this, that
the library will be set up somewhere. I want at this point to donate
the library to an institution that might hold it as a
whole because it’s a library of the history of
reading really. But I think that will happen. Whether it will happen in my
lifetime or not, I can’t tell.>>Carla Hayden:
Libraries that are lost in communities have an impact. It’s very hard to close
a library in a community because of the same thing in
an individual library loss as well as the community.>>Joshua Hammer: Abdel Kader
Haidara, when he was starting out in the 80’s as a government
librarian in charge of trying to recover these manuscripts
which had been scattered across the desert, and
he would go out walking through the desert essentially,
or taking boats trying to persuade these
manuscript owners that had had the manuscripts in
their families for generations to give them to the
government library in Timbuktu. You can see them. You’ll be free to visit them. They’ll be kept here in great
condition and preserved. Right now they’re sitting
in the trunk in your hut and they’re disintegrating. And it was a hell of
an effort to get them to part with these things. This was part of
their family identity. It took incredible persistence,
bribery, all sorts of tricks, and persuasion to get
them to give them up. And even when the jihadis had
invaded the country, Timbuktu, it was again an effort of
persuasion to try to get — . People were in denial that
there was anything wrong. They didn’t want to
give up the books, even, “You’ll send them off to Bamako. They’ll be thrown in
with a bunch of others. We’ll lose track of them. I’ll never — . I don’t even know what
manuscripts I have. I’ve never — .” None of them had
ever done indexing or they had no idea what
was in their collections and suddenly they were
asked to give them up to a relative
stranger and send them through the desert
a thousand miles. So it was a constant
struggle to get people to part from what they considered to be
the most valuable possessions in their lives and the whole
essence of their identity in it.>>Carla Hayden: I know we — . Oh, “Wrap it up,” it says. Because, as you can tell,
we could go on and on.>>Alberto Manguel:
There’s a bad-ass librarian.>>Carla Hayden: There’s
a bad-ass librarian. But I want to thank both of you for national loss,
personal loss.>>Alberto Manguel:
Thank you so much.>>Carla Hayden:
Thank you so much. Thank you. [ Inaudible ] And they’re both
“Packing My Library” and “The Bad-Ass Librarians”.

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