Academic journal article Alexandria

Revolutionary Libraries: Building Collections and Promoting Research about the January 25th Uprising in Egypt

Academic journal article Alexandria

Revolutionary Libraries: Building Collections and Promoting Research about the January 25th Uprising in Egypt

Article excerpt


On 25 January 2011, protests broke out across Egypt, with protesters demanding an end to government corruption and political violence. Centred in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square, the January 25th Revolution began with 18 days of protests that culminated in the resignation of President Husnim Mubarak. During the demonstrations, American University in Cairo (AUC) students, faculty and administrators convened in dorms and homes for emergency planning sessions, but also to devise a plan to document the historic events underway. Archivists, faculty, and administrators developed University on the Square: Documenting Egypt's 21st Century Revolution, a participatory archives initiative that 'seeks to preserve the momentous events of early 2011' and 'events as they unfold' (American University in Cairo, 2011a). When university students left the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and returned to their classes, they expressed an interest in Revolution -theme d assignments. Faculty and librarians responded quickly. Instructors re-wrote syllabuses and librarians acquired new resources. Reference and instruction librarians promoted research and instructional design services, while archivists worked to collect the outpouring of student projects, graduate theses and faculty publications analysing the January 25th Revolution.


The American University in Cairo is a private, English -language university located in Egypt. In 2011, there were 6,503 students enrolled, 5,244 of which were undergraduates. Most students were Egyptian, but 9.5% of students came from other countries. In the same year, there were 423 faculty members; 53% were Egyptian, 31% were American, and 16% came from other countries (American University in Cairo, 2012). Although the main campus is located in New Cairo, a growing suburb, AUC maintains a downtown campus on Tahrir Square. The downtown campus bore witness to the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, making AUC a natural candidate to lead January 25th Revolution documentation and research efforts.


Following the uprising, the AUC Library redoubled collection development and acquisitions efforts to stimulate research and critically engage students and faculty with the January 25th Revolution. Archivists, administrators and faculty, with the help of dozens of student volunteers and employees, collected primary sources to document the demonstrations and democratic elections, while librarians increased monograph holdings, selecting titles that might be used for comparative analysis of the Revolution.

To date, the University on the Square project has collected more than 4,000 photographs and over 300 videos with the help of politically engaged student volunteers and tech savvy staff. Moreover, oral historians, project volunteers and student employees conducted over 150 interviews with political activists, student demonstrators and academics to document recollections of the demonstrations and political opinions about Egypt's future. Archivists worked with art instructors to collect nearly 20 pieces of original art, which have been photographed and published in the university's digital library (American University in Cairo, 2011b). Additionally, project contributors submitted websites to the archive, resulting in a collection of more than 40 million unique web documents that include Twitter feeds, videos, digital photographs, and local news coverage of the demonstrations, parliamentary and presidential elections, trials, and memorials to the Revolution's martyrs like Khaled Said (American University in Cairo, 2011e).

In addition to the primary sources collected as part of the University on the Square project, librarians and faculty worked closely to assess and supplement current print collections, ensuring a wide array of revolutionfocused texts that provide resources for historical analysis and comparison. The library liaisons and academic departments assessed current collections to identify gaps in holdings, and created thematic lists of monographs to purchase. …

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