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Straight to the Source: The AC Interviews Amed Demirhan About the Digital Library of the Middle East

November 11, 2019

AC Co-founder, Peter Herdrich, had a chance to sit down with Amed Demirhan, renowned international librarian and a project co-director of the Digital Library of the Middle East’s (DLME) “Digitizing the Kurdish Heritage Institute Collection” initiative in Sulaimani, the Kurdistan Federal Region of Iraq.

Their discussion dives into libraries, cultural heritage preservation, and the work that Amed is leading on-the-ground in Kurdistan.

Amed DemirhanTell us about your background as a librarian?

Since January 2001, I have been professionally working in libraries. First, as a reference librarian in joint schools/public and academic/public libraries and later as a Reference/Learning Services supervisor at a regional library in Broward County, Florida. In 2006, I moved to the Kurdistan Federal Region of Iraq to lead the establishment of the new University of Kurdistan Hawler Library in Erbil.

After five years, I moved to Nigeria to transform the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State with the visionary and energetic AUN President Dr. Margee Ensign. We had great success with refocusing the library on elibrary materials, allowing us to expand collections while saving money.  In December 2014, I returned to Kurdistan to help establish the Great National Leader Mustafa Barzani National Memorial and am still working on it.

Librarianship is part of my lifestyle; therefore, I rigorously maintain my membership in the America Library Association and am actively working on a number of committees.

How did you get involved with the Antiquities Coalition?

I met Peter Herdrich, the project director of the DLME, in November 2015 at the Middle East Library Association annual meeting, where he talked about the DLME and the Antiquities Coalition. This was very appealing to me. I felt right away that I share their organizational vision, mission, and values.

As a librarian, preservation, protection, and dissemination of cultural heritage are part of our core ideals.  In July 2019, together with Peter Herdrich, I became Project Co-Director of Digitizing the Kurdish Heritage Institute (KHI) project when we received funding from the US Embassy in Baghdad to help digitize their collections.

You are working on a project at the Kurdish Heritage Institute in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. What are you doing?

With my co-director we have supplied required hardware and software for digitization of the Kurdish Heritage Institute collections. We have hired local staff from KHI and trained them on the process of digitization and metadata collection. We are currently using a high-speed scanner to digitize the KHI collection of over 10,000 books.

All this is in preparation for our ultimate goal – helping the KHI to share information about Kurdish heritage globally by creating the first digital lending library in both Kurdistan and Iraq. It’s an exciting project and we are deeply indebted to our great collaborators, especially the KHI director, Mr. Mazhar Khaleghi. And of course, to the DLME’s incubating organization, the Council on Library and Information Resources and its President, Dr. Charles Henry.

The DLME is a CLIR project and our work in Sulaimani would be impossible without CLIR’s contribution and commitment.

Museum, archaeological, library, and archival collections are all part of the DLME. Why is that important? 

In my humble opinion, there is nothing more important than these collections because they are nurturing our soul. They help us learn about the past, present, and future. We learn about who we are. They provide and nurture our identities as individuals, community members, and human beings.

Now that terrorists are using archeological artifacts and manuscripts to finance their murderous hatred against humanity, it is more urgent than ever we protect our human heritage.

What can people around the world do to help with the preservation of library and bibliographic heritage? 

Everyone needs to know and preserve their heritage. As I said earlier, it helps us in many ways. However, I think many people are not aware of the value and importance of cultural heritage preservation, or those who are aware have other priorities.

Many times, it is not about money but knowledge, skills, and understanding the significance. I think organizations like CLIR, DLME, and the Antiquities Coalition need to be more visible international and lead with ideas of preservation, protection, and dissemination.

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