T160k Crowdfunds to Help Librarians Catalog Medieval Manuscripts from Timbuktu

Social Purpose Corporation T160k recently launched “Cataloging the Timbuktu Libraries,” a crowdfunding effort to help train local staff in Mali and help librarians in Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library catalog and preserve more than 400,000 ancient, fragile manuscripts.
Timbuktu ManuscriptSocial Purpose Corporation T160k recently launched “Cataloging the Timbuktu Libraries,” a crowdfunding effort to help train local staff in Mali and help librarians in Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library catalog and preserve more than 400,000 ancient, fragile manuscripts. Establishing local infrastructure and expertise that will lead to sustainable long-term projects is a key goal of T160k, and founder and Executive VP Stephanie Diakité told LJ that crowdfunding, in many ways, is ideally suited to this approach. By comparison, international grant funding often leads to projects that are temporary in nature, and rely more heavily on outside expertise. “It has so much potential for getting culture front and center in the development agenda,” she said. “So much of development policy is so far from people’s culture that the services or the strategies that are developed are unsuccessful.” Diakité has been working on cultural preservation and conservation efforts in Africa for about 30 years, and she added that “so much of cultural funding is very top-down. We’re trying to change the paradigm and using technology…to enable on-the-ground stakeholders and people in other parts of the world to create a sustainable relationship.” T160k went live in November 2014, as a followup to the successful Indiegogo campaign “Timbuktu: Libraries in Exile,” that raised emergency funding in 2013 to rescue these manuscripts from the threat of destruction by Islamic militants.

Daring Rescue

As background, in early 2012, a rebel group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of northern Mali, and the country's president, Amadou Toumani Touré, was ousted in a military coup in the south. As instability engulfed the north African country, Ansar Dine, a militant Islamic group with links to al-Qaeda, quickly took control of several cities in the north, including Timbuktu. In a disturbing echo of the destruction of Afghanistan's 1,400 year old monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan statues by the Taliban in March 2001, Ansar Dine began systematically destroying Timbuktu's many medieval shrines and mausoleums of Sufi saints, describing them as idolatrous. Under threat were also hundreds of thousands of unique medieval manuscripts—some dating back to the 13th century—on topics ranging from science and medicine to art and philosophy. These collections had been the target of several earlier international preservation and digitization efforts, most recently the University of Oslo’s Timbuktu Manuscripts Project, and the University of Cape Town’s Tombouctou Manuscripts Project, funded by the government of South Africa from 2003 through 2009. But when French troops ultimately drove Ansar Dine from the city in 2013, the group set fire to two of the city’s libraries, and international reports initially indicated that many of the priceless manuscripts had been destroyed. Unbeknownst to the rebels, however, Diakité had been working for months with Dr. Abdel Kader Haidara, owner and curator of the Mamma Haidara Library, more than 30 local family libraries, and the state-run Ahmed Baba Institute, to help smuggle hundreds of thousands of the ancient manuscripts out of the city to safety in Malian government–controlled Bamako. "It was very risky. We evacuated the manuscripts in cars, carts, and canoes," Haidara told the BBC.

Historic Opportunity

Although the circumstances were certainly tragic and alarming, these events ultimately served to gather manuscripts from dozens of private libraries into a single collection for the first time, presenting the Mamma Haidara Library with an unprecedented opportunity to catalog these historic manuscripts. "It's like looking for a needle in a haystack to find anything specific," Diakité said. "Until the manuscripts are cataloged and we know a lot more about what we have and where to get it, research for the purpose of integrating this scholarship is very problematic." T160k estimates that technology infrastructure and training costs will total about $5 per cataloging record—or $2 million total. The group has raised about $12,000 in pledges toward its initial fundraising goal of $100,000, which will help get the project off the ground. The group accepts both one-off contributions and ongoing subscription pledges, starting at $5 per month. According to the group’s website, the funding will enable the Mamma Haidara Library to:
  • Train and pay local workers to carry out the cataloging effort in accordance with standards and best practices for Arabic manuscripts
  • Train and pay quality control experts to oversee the cataloging effort
  • Purchase, deploy, and maintain mobile devices such as iPads for cataloging workers
  • [Provide] technical assistance, setup, and development, including cataloging database, cataloging software, and redundant cloud backup
  • [Support] project management and administration of cataloging effort
In addition to the Mamma Haidara cataloging project, T160k is also crowdsourcing funds for four other groups: the Fendika Music Club in Ethiopia, the Circus Debre Berhan in Kenya, the Irene Tassembédo Dance School in Burkina Faso, and Instruments 4 Africa in Mali. Pledges toward each of these projects can be made via the organization’s website, t160k.org. "All of our projects, in one way or another, need sustainable funding to perpetuate their work, or for the purpose of institutional development," Diakité said. Naomi House, founder and editor of the popular "I Need a Library Job" website (inalj.com) has signed on as T160k's Chief Marketing Officer, and is already finding that the INALJ community has been eager to help. "One of the most fantastic things about librarians is that they are really committed volunteers to these types of programs," House said. However, outreach efforts, she emphasized, will focus on building networks of staff and volunteers within these African countries, supported by T160k's crowdfunding efforts. "One of the first questions that I get—especially from catalogers since [the Timbuktu manuscripts project is] a cataloging project—is 'do you need help cataloging? What do you need help with?'" House said. "When I explain that there are already plenty of trained catalogers in Mali and across sub-Saharan Africa...and that we already have the people on the ground, they actually get excited. Their first thought is 'How can I help? I want to do this.' Once they realize that it's a little more specialized and that there's people already ready [to work on the project in Mali] and that our funding is going to support these people, it really encourages them."
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Naomi House

Here is the link to how people can help! https://t160k.org/campaign/libraries-in-exile/

Posted : Jan 26, 2015 08:53


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