All the Books in the World

UN Chronicle, June 1989 | Go to article overview

All the Books in the World


The revival of the Library of Alexandria, one of the glories of the ancient world, could well be one of the high points marking the beginning of the twenty-first century. It also illustrates what the World Decade for Cultural Development is all about.

The new Library will be built on a striking site overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where the Palace of the Ptolemy kings once stood. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, laid the foundation stone in june 1988. The ambitious, 160-million project is being carried out by Egypt, with UNESCO's help. The first stage-a 200,000-volume library-will be completed by 1995. Eventually the library will house 8 million books.

Nothing remains of the original Library founded 2,288 years ago (about 300 B.C.) by Demetrios of Phaleron, a pupil of the Greek philosopher-scholar Aristotle. Therefore, the new library will not be a restoration, but a revival of the spirit and purpose of the original. It will focus on the history, geography and culture of Alexandria and the surrounding region-the Mediterranean basin and the Near East.

Tens of thousands of precious medieval manuscripts now deteriorating in Egyptian mosques, museums, monasteries and convents will be brought to the new library, where they will be restored and catalogued for the first time.

The library will be open to the public. Universities in the area will have direct electronic access to its computerized catalogue and data base. Information will relate to Greek and Middle Eastern antiquity, the meeting of Egyptian and Greek civilizations, the birth of Coptic Christianity and the influence of Islam, with special emphasis on the history of science in the ancient world. A regional information retrieval service will make it available to researchers all over the world.

An international school attached to the library will train its future staff and that of other institutions in the Middle East in advanced library science computer techniques.

The library is designed to host major international congresses. Its conference rooms-equipped with state-of-the-art communication facilities-will accommodate some 2,500 persons.

UNESCO has already contributed a feasibility study of the entire project and paid for a tour of major European libraries by two Egyptian officials. With the International Union of Architects, it will launch a $500,000 international architectural competition, funded by the United Nations Development Programme. It is also working to attract foreign donors for the project. The Egyptian Government so far has invested $60 million. Another $100 million still has to be raised. …

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