It has been written that a university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. In Mosul, this was indeed the case. The library was not only the beating heart of the University of Mosul, but of the city itself.
Built in 1967, Mosul University Library was the largest in northern Iraq and one of the largest in the Middle East and North Africa. The space once housed more than one million books—600,000 Arabic-language materials and 400,000 resources in English and other languages—for 150 university departments covering diverse fields of knowledge and 30,000 periodicals, in some cases dating back to 1700 CE. The library contained 1,600 manuscripts, 5,000 government publications from as far back as the founding of the modern Iraqi state in 1921, and versions of the Quran from the 19th century. Foreign culture corners gave students and researchers the chance to explore diverse literary traditions and faraway lands.
As a house of learning and knowledge at the centre of the university, the library was among the first institutions targeted by ISIS after their occupation of Mosul in 2014. They would later burn it completely, destroying nearly all of its contents and the building’s structure. Some 50,000 students and university staff are now unable to complete their research and academic projects in addition to independent researchers from Mosul, nearby cities and other parts of Iraq. We want to change this.
This is an urgent call for solidarity, support and assistance from our friends in universities, public libraries, organisations & institutions, publishing houses, and the media as we begin the long journey to rebuild our library collections and eventually Mosul University Library itself. The library is critical to the university’s reopening and students’ return to their studies as they, together with the city, endeavour to start their lives anew. Iraq’s people, especially the younger generation, need resources that develop their minds and support progress of themselves and their country in an effort to move beyond the cycle of war and violent conflict.
The Mosul Book Bridge campaign was started by a lecturer at the university, Dr. Alaa Hamdon, with the goal of replacing all the lost books. He has since been joined by Dr Caroline Sandes (International Council on Monuments and Sites, UK); Dr Alice König (Senior Lecturer in Classics, University of St Andrews, UK) and Ms Kate Walker (Education Consultant and PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield, UK). Together, Alaa, Caroline, Alice and Kate lead efforts and are supported by other scholars
(including members of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Young Academy of Scotland). We utilise our networks within higher education and publishing and engage with the wider academic community to realise a shared vision of a restored Mosul University Library. We work alongside other organisations (such as Book Aid International).