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Source: Boston Globe 18 Oct. 1994

"Imagine all our libraries aflame -- deliberately
targeted by someone aiming to destroy Boston's soul.
An equivalent of this nightmare is exactly what
happened recently in the city of Sarajevo."

To Save a People Save Their Books

James Carroll

The library at Copley Square is the geographic, cultural and spiritual
heart of Boston. Soon we will be celebrating the centenary of the
McKim Building, which opened in February 1895. A loving and lavish
$50 million restoration of the library is putting on display the full
glory of "the palace for the people," as its builders called it.

Beginning in 1854, the Public Library was created by Boston's elite
out of a combination of enlightened self-interest and idealism to
educate the illiterate and to root new citizens in a common cultural
tradition. And unlike every other major library in America, there
would be no entrance fee. The phrase "Free To All" is engraved on the
stone above the McKim Building door, a permanent symbol of the absolute
link between the love of books and the idea of democracy.

So now, in your mind's eye, picture this building in the heart of
our city and recall its meaning as an emblem of everything we value most
about ourselves. And now imagine it exploding in flames. Imagine the
marble staircases crumbling and the Sargent murals on fire. And think
of the library's books burning -- all 6 million volumes, all 120,000
musical scores, all 3 million government documents, all 4 million
units of microfilm -- curling into ashes as the pillars and vaulted
ceilings crash to the ground, everything lost. And imagine that such
a thing is happening not by accident but because someone deliberately
set out to destroy the Boston Public Library -- not just the building
and the artifacts, but the idea it represents.

And imagine, further, that simultaneously the other great libraries
of Boston are on fire -- the Athenaeum on Beacon Hill, the Widener
at Harvard, the Mugar at Boston University, the O'Neill at Boston
College -- and all 25 branches of the BPL throughout the city. Imagine
all those books aflame -- targeted by someone not content to destroy
the body of Boston, but aiming to destroy its soul.

An equivalent of this nightmare scenario is exactly what has happened
recently in the city of Sarajevo.

As the McKim Building was being constructed in the 1890s, a beautiful
Moorish-revival building was going up on the Sarajevo riverfront; it later
became the new home of the National Library of Bosnia. By 1992, it housed
1.5 million volumes, the country's national archives, the library of the
University of Sarajevo and collections dating back to the Middle Ages --
all of which gave form to the remarkable history of Bosnia as a place where
Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics and Jews had lived together as one people.
That idea is what Serb aggression has been trying to eradicate.

And so, naturally, the libraries have been deliberately targeted.
In August 1992, the National Library was burned to the ground in what
Andras Riedlmayer calls "the largest single incident of book-burning
in history." A librarian was shot to death by snipers as she sought
to save books from the fire. For a week, charred pieces of paper fell
on Sarajevo "like a premature fall of autumn leaves," one person said.
In addition to the National and University Library, gunners have targeted
Sarajevo's Oriental Institute, destroying its precious Islamic and Jewish
texts dating back five centuries; Bosnia's National Museum; the Archives
of Herzegovina in Mostar; the library of Mostar's Roman Catholic arch-
bishpric; and the Museum of Herzegovina. As Prof. Riedlmayer says, "These
records were written proof that non-Serbs once resided and ... had
historical roots there." To kill a people, kill their books.

And what can we do about this horror? Instead of thinking of our response
exclusively in military terms, which permanently immobilizes us, we could
respond in more broadly human ways, towards a massive and international
moral intervention. That implies, first, facing the fact of the horror
happening. Every time we see the beauties of our own shrines to the book,
every time we feel the hush of reading rooms, implicitly entering the
most sacred of realms, we can think of its deliberate desecration in
Sarajevo. Second, concretely and in the spirit of the large-hearted
creators and restorers of the Boston Public Library, we can commit our-
selves to support the reconstruction of Bosnian libraries. The Bosnian
refusal to yield to "ethnic cleansing" is nowhere more dogged than here,
for the survival of the Bosnian multi-ethnic idea depends on the rescue
of books that enshrine it. If lovers of libraries all over the world
threw in with Bosnian libraries, Serb extremists might begin to see
the futility of their ambition.

The rescue of Bosnia's libraries is under way, and it needs our help.
To hear more about it, give yourself the pleasure this Friday, Oct. 21,
of a visit to the exquisitely restored Boston Public Library -- but this
time not only for the wonders of the McKim Building. From 3 to 5 pm,
Dr. Enes Kujundzic will be speaking in the Mezzanine Conference Room.
He is the director of the National and University Library of Bosnia and
Herzegovina. This valiant man is coming to Boston to offer us a way,
finally, to come to Sarajevo.