Monday, March 01, 2010

Could old books save Timbuktu?

I really hope this story pans out. Timbuktu (at least for those of us of a certain age) has long been a sloppy synonym for incredibly far away, like at the end of the world. The city was once -- some six centuries ago -- a great center of trade, civilization and learning, but it is now a dusty outpost with few inhabitants and not much in the way of an economy. But it turns out that a number of families have saved old books from the days wheN Timbuktu had a university and was a wealthy town, and now there's hope that those old books could be a source of interest from and revenue from the outside world. In the 1970s and Mali created the Ahmed Baba Institute to preserve and store them. It has 30,000 volumes now and room for 100,000. South African archivists are taking up temporary residence to help. Various families have thousands more books. As they are preserved and displayed, the hope is that they will nonly help to redefine and refine the history of Africa but eventually attract tourists.

As an incurable book man, even in this day of blogs and pixels, I hope it works.

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