Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to Library Business


When the manuscripts of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu were partially destroyed by the spite of the Islamists as they fled before the liberation of the city by the French in February, the world became aware of the importance of Mali’s written heritage. Although most of the interest naturally focussed on the city of Timbuktu which had lived through the horror of the Islamist occupation, our work at the Djenne Manuscript Library also gained an added sense of urgency and the British Library project to digitize the manuscripts of Djenne did receive a certain amount of  welcome attention by the international press.

 Helen Skinner (above right), a Paper conservation specialist based in Stockholm, therefore contacted me regarding the manuscripts of Djenne.  She has worked on several UNESCO projects, including the conservation of the 18th century wall paper at the Chinese Pavilion, the Palace of Drottningholm. She has many years of experience working with  fine art, maps and manuscripts. ( Now she wants to help us at the Djenne Manuscript Library, which would be a wonderful addition to the present work of digitization.

I am returning to Djenne with  £55 000 worth of  funding by the British Library’s  Endangered Archives Programme for a further 2 years of digitization work. This is of course wonderful. However,  just photographing  the collection  is an unbalanced way to support the library, and there are factions in the town which sees digitization work as a form of theft: the images will be ‘stolen’ and eventually put up for free internet access through the British Library. ‘And what do we get out of it?’ the population of Djenne asks...
The project does give 6 people full time work for the next two years; we will also fund the making of 500 acid free storage boxes for the manuscripts; we will sponsor conferences to raise the manuscripts owners’ awareness of the importance of the manuscripts etc. The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme does a wonderful job. But it is not enough. The project does not sponsor conservation work, and  this is what is needed in Djenne alongside the digitization work. Many of the manuscripts are too fragile to touch and cannot be studied or digitized without conservation work being undertaken first.
So here is the idea: Helen Skinner wants to come to Djenne and do a pilot study of the condition of the Djenne manuscripts. She wants to visit Timbuktu and learn from the conservators there in order to understand the local conditions. She then wants to put together a report and a proposal which will  be used to seek funding for a conservation project, which would include the training of local staff. Now we need some seed money for this, for air fares and various expenses. Anyone out there interested in helping the Djenne Manuscript Library? Please visit and go to ‘projects’ and 'donations' page. Or if you have no money, but ideas of how to raise this money, please contact MaliMali.



Blogger Unknown said...

hi, great to read and see that you are working on the restauration/ digitization of the old djenne texts. maybe you can help me and clearify, if there are any texts in djenne with a historic reference to the creation and/or status of the barey-ton, the masons guild?
greetings from ireland,

11:46 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home