Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiti's libraries and books

Among all the other tragedies, artifacts of Haiti's cultural heritage seem to have been severely damaged by the earthquake. As reported on the SHARP-L listserv, most libraries collapsed, though the National Archives survived. As we've noted with Timbuktu's historical documents, however, the New York Times reports that many of Haiti's most important texts were being preserved in private homes.

Among the truths bared by the quake was the reality that, after so many years of government dysfunction, private groups and individuals had become some of the most important protectors of the country’s treasures.

Many of the country’s most valuable historical texts, for instance, were owned by individuals, and preserved at their homes — rather than under glass or in wood-walled libraries as they might have been in Washington or other moneyed capitals.

So last week, as they have done so many times since their country’s latest tragedy struck, Haitians again stepped up to perform rescues themselves because other help was slow in coming.

Patrick Vilaire, a sculptor, met on Thursday night with others concerned about saving some of the country’s legacy from looters or further building collapses. They put at the top of their agenda preserving the book collections at two private homes, a cache of irreplaceable history, political and economic texts from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Asked how he could focus on old books after such a catastrophic event, Mr. Vilaire said, “The dead are dead, we know that. But if you don’t have the memory of the past, the rest of us can’t continue living

(h/t Germaine Warkentin)

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