- Middle East Libraries in Focus
While I was the director of the campus library at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) in Doha, I fielded various questions about my experience. I tried answering questions with a tight "elevator speech," a summary of my experiences brief enough to deliver during a short elevator ride. About 20 seconds in, however, the listener's eyes would glaze over because I was not providing a hoped-for juicy or tantalizing answer. Instead, I often answered with something innocuous like "I like it" or lighthearted like "It is easy to travel to anywhere from there." Any brief answer was inadequate to describe fully the experience and how it transformed me professionally and personally.
Among such questions as "Do you need to cover your hair?" and "Can you go in public alone?" three questions gave me pause. They were inquiries along the lines of "Are you scared to be in the Middle East?" "Are you isolated professionally?" and "You are doing noble and brave work, aren't you?" My answers were simply "no," but my experience was not universal to the Middle East. When asked that type of question, I wondered about colleagues at other American-style universities different from NU-Q and the other institutions in Education City. The library colleagues I thought of, though I did not know them personally, worked at two universities, the American University of Afghanistan and the American University in Iraq Sulaimani. These are Americanstyle, American-curriculum universities in the Middle East not affiliated with a home campus in the United States. These universities operate in places of greater security risk, in countries racked by war and economic difficulties. They lack a 160-year-old home campus and library like Northwestern's upon which to rely. Although we all had campuses founded in the first decade of the 2000s, these librarians had to start from scratch without helpful colleagues and without support from a home campus. I also wondered if they lacked a natural academic library community such as we had in Qatar's cohesive Education City, the campus on the outskirts of Doha that hosts many educational and research organizations, including branch campuses of six American universities. Their [End Page 243] positions, I presumed, would more likely be professionally isolated and pioneering. I admired them without knowing them.
Now, two years later, I have reached out to these librarians and am learning about them, their institutions, and their libraries. Hamayoun Ghafoori is the assistant director of the American University of Afghanistan Library in Kabul, and Rania Azad is the manager of the Moulakis Library at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani. They wrote about their experiences based on questions I asked. What they describe will be familiar to many of us in academic and research libraries yet also very different in some respects, with challenges that we cannot imagine. They made me think, "No matter how bad my day is, I'm not diverting my budget to fight ISIS, and my campus doesn't close physically due to a terror attack." I hope you appreciate learning about them and their institutions as I have, which has broadened my understanding. Here are their stories.
American University of Afghanistan (AUAF)
In Afghanistan, some people may not be impressed when told that you work in a library, but I find it a very interesting field, and I am proud of working in a library. I had little library training before 2006, when I was hired to work in the Afghan Parliament Library by the Afghanistan Parliamentary Assistance Project, a United States-funded effort to establish a strong, effective Afghan parliament. The Parliament Library was an organized, neat facility with Internet and computer facilities. I was the only staff member who understood English. Knowing English and having access to the Internet helped me improve my library knowledge. I started doing research on how modern libraries operate. I strengthened my network with other librarians in Asia, Europe, and the United States by posting my questions in groups, contacting librarians, and subscribing to different electronic mailing lists.
At the time, the Parliament...