Bad-Ass Librarians

21 Jul

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This button has been pinned on my ALA Conference lanyard since I picked it up in Boston in January. I would have moved it to my school lanyard, except that it has the word ASS on it and that is certainly a middle school no-no.

When I first picked up the button, I didn’t realize it was meant to promote Joshua Hammer’s book  The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. 

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During the school year, the book came up in discussion with a former school library colleague who was on the verge of retirement (and whose retirement party I will attend tomorrow).

Well, I finally read the book. It is about the librarians who saved the thousands of Arabic manuscripts housed in and around Timbuktu, bit it also gives background to why the effort was necessary.

Publisher’s Summary: To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

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One Response to “Bad-Ass Librarians”

  1. The Poetry Channel July 21, 2016 at 6:32 am #

    Excellent story. Too bad other treasures and antiquities are being destroyed as we speak.

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