Three Million Books and a New Hope for a Coming Generation

One hot Iraq summer day in 2005, my unit went on a mission to explore the schools area near Camp Corregidor, Ramadi and ascertain their status. We wanted to know what schools were in operation and what they were teaching. Beginning in the early morning hours, we strolled through the rural area of Sofia on a dismounted patrol. At one point in the mission, we stopped at one of the schools that was in session. The curiosity of the young Iraqi students got the better of them and they swarmed us, asking for footballs, chocolate, and pencils. After the initial curiosity wore off, one small boy walked up and tugged my team leader’s pant leg and asked for a book. It stunned us both, and neither of us had a book. The question I have wrestled with over the years is, what book would I have given to the boy?

Concept photo for the new library. Source AMBS

The other day I was rummaging around the internet, and I was amazed to learn of plans to build a new public library in Baghdad and that it was to be the first built since the 1970s. I could not help but think of the small boy again. After reading about the new library’s ambitious goal to hold roughly 3 million books, I imagined the little boy running through the library, finding a book, and triumphantly reading his newfound treasure.

Amir Mousawi, director of the London based AMBS Architects, and Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library Archive, share the belief that access to information is key to Iraq’s future. Among the shared beliefs is Amir’s idea of knowledge flowing into the new library, which complements Saad’s idea that the new library will help promote democracy in Iraq by providing unconditional access to information, freedom of expression, and transparency.

The previous library’s significant loss in collected works, records, and history due to looting and fire in 2003 shortly after US troops entered the city. The 45,000 square meter library hopes to replace the former library by housing a public archive along with a special collection of rare books. It will serve as the heart of Iraq’s “Youth City,” getting Iraq back on track as the cultural center of the Arab world, a distinction, which Baghdad has held numerous times.

The design of the library, like the goal of the Youth City, focuses on the future needs of the Iraqi Youth. Sustainability finds itself worked into the design with solar panels, and when viewed from the sky the panels will form ‘read’ in Arabic. There is also a colossal emphasis on space and will host some of the largest reading rooms in the world. The ultimate goal is to serve as a multifunctional building to host things such as art exhibits, educational workshops, and film screenings.

The new library should go to tender this month (September 2013) and should take about 3 years to complete. Perhaps in the near future, the little boy can get his book.

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