I have worked with manuscripts for over 20 years now; as a librarian, academic and as a consultant helping others to digitise their collections. I have worked in various African countries with many great libraries and archives for over 10 years. I love Africa, I love the people, the culture, the heritage - their manuscript collections, archives and rock art are things of wonder. Not least because Africa is a continent that has been wracked by the three horsemen of the manuscript conservationists nightmares: war, pestilence and natural disaster.
So it is with incredible sadness that I note today the loss of potentially thousands of manuscripts from the New Ahmed Baba Institute building in Mali. The story in the news (see Guardian and Sky) and online (@howden_africa in particular) suggests that:
"Islamist insurgents retreating from the ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th century, in what the town's mayor described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage. (Guardian 28/1/2013)"
[Note: updates on the situation may be found at the bottom of this blog posting]