Emma Taylor reports on how Book Aid International has helped to provide new books for the university library in Mosul
In many conflict zones around the world, books and education become targets. Classrooms are closed, books burned, and even where schools remain open learning is disrupted by violence. After war, rebuilding libraries and schools is an important part of returning to normalcy, and is often a top priority.
Before Mosul fell to Islamic State (IS) forces in 2014, the University of Mosul's library collection was one of the most important in the region. It held more than one million books on philosophy, law, science and poetry - including many irreplaceable historic texts. IS led a brutal campaign of violence and repression - devastating museums, schools and libraries in an attack on free thought itself. In 2015, fighters deliberately destroyed all but a few of the university library's books and the building itself in what UNESCO called "one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history".
During the IS occupation, many students refused to give up on their education. Some relocated to other cities where they could continue to study, and many others sought refuge overseas. The University of Mosul's Dr Alaa Hamdon was one of the many academics who were forced to leave because of the threat IS posed. When he returned to Mosul he was shocked to see what had happened to his city, and particularly the library. In response, he founded a new campaign, the Mosul Book Bridge, with a simple aim: replace the books destroyed by IS. In March 2017, the Mosul Book Bridge reached out to Book Aid International.
Safe route to Mosul
Book Aid International's vision is a world where everyone has access to the books that will enrich, improve and change their lives. We provide new, publisher-donated books for people around the world who would otherwise have few books, or even no books at all.
When Mosul Book Bridge approached us, we were eager to help - but while Mosul had been liberated, it was still a difficult place to reach. The University of Mosul also needed higher education books, which are often in short supply. The logistical challenges of shipping to Mosul meant it would be far more expensive than an average shipment. It was a challenge from every angle.
Over the next 12 months, we worked to find a safe route into Mosul and asked our publishing partners for support in funding the costs of sending the books. In March 2018, 3,700 new books arrived at the University of Mosul. It was a moment of celebration both in Mosul, where Dr Hamdon quite literally danced in the street, and here in the UK, where the delivery made BBC headlines. Today, those books are reinvigorating the university's vibrant and diverse academic community after years of repression. They will also help ambitious students gain the skills they need to begin rebuilding Mosul.
The challenges that Mosul Book Bridge and the university face are still immense. The library needs a new building, chairs, shelves, computers and a new filing system - but progress is being made, and a plan to renovate the damaged library has recently been agreed.
By the time this article is published, a second shipment of 5,400 new books will have gone to Mosul - but with a new library space being prepared, many thousands more books will be needed.
A future rich in books
In 2018, Book Aid International sent 1.28 million books to thousands of universities, prisons and refugee camps in 25 countries, including thousands of books to Mosul, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and many other places where conflict has robbed people of their libraries and left communities shattered.
It is only through the generosity of the publishers who donate both books and money to our charity that we can do this. If you would like to be a part of helping rebuild the University of Mosul's library or other conflict-affected communities, please visit www.bookaid.org or call us on 020 7733 3577. You can also find out more about Mosul Book Bridge by visiting https://mosulbookbridge.org/.
Photos: (top) the destroyed library; (above) Dr Alaa Hamdon (left) with the university team as the books arrive
Emma Taylor is head of communications at Book Aid International.
This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.