Librarian Sentiment and the Destruction in Sarajevo

Mark Edwin Peterson


Initial results just how few of the tweets related to this topic directly. For instance, tweets about Serbian, (i.e. looking for topics such as Serbian actions, Serbian forces, Serbian war crimes, etc.) tended to cover a wide variety of issues, few of them having anything to do with libraries during the Bosnian war.

However, going through the process of coding all of the tweets returned for these terms did demonstrate enough excerpts with declarations about library aims in such a way that it was possible to weigh sentiment. The main thing to say about results like these is that they show that special collections in the United States largely use Twitter to inform people about the events and collections in their own libraries. Tweets on libraries destroyed or books burned rarely had any connection to Sarajevo or any international collection at all, since the tweets on these topics also tended to focus on local interests, such as "on this day" trivia or connections to publicity for collections on site, with the exception of a few notices about Nazi book burning. The names of the authors Ovenden and Reidlemayer were searched for, after noticing the prevalence of author talks, and they did indeed bring back some of the most concrete references to the libraries in Sarajevo. Librarians announced that they liked a book about protecting libraries or had an author coming to campus. Even in these cases, informing the public was much more prevalent than any reaction to crimes of the past or concerns for the future. Much as archivists, and librarians in general, are seeking more and more to encourage more people to use their collections by including a wider body of material, none of these analyzed tweets mentioned anything about expanding collections. References to Islamic manuscripts were limited to new exhibits of beautiful works that had been acquired by collectors in the heyday of Orientalism.

One exception is a tweet from the Newberry Library in Chicago during Banned Books Week, a celebrated event in the library world and a time when librarians are most outspoken about their positive role in society. "For the record, our official position is anti-books being banned or burned. Book burning is rooted in censorship, and has often been a way of exerting cultural, religious, or political control." Far more typical is a retweet from the Morgan Library in New York. "Thanks for putting your Islamic manuscripts online, @MorganLibrary! Glorious." This is not meant to indicate disappointment in the focus of library Twitter, just to point out the nature of how special collections librarians use tweets to connect with the public and build their brand. It would be helpful to carry out a more complete harvesting and coding of the tweets from these same institutions, in order to say anything deeper about their thoughts on the dangers of libricide or the effective ways to respond. This study does suggest, however, that few libraries feel any significant responsibility to call for the persecution of war crimes, the protection of libraries, or the recovery of cultural heritage.

A look at the ways in which libraries describe themselves confirms a focus on informing their patrons on site, as you would expect, and a mission to collect as much as the libraries can collect in the areas they have determined are worthwhile. Of course, not all special collections have collection budgets, so there is a bit of theater in some of these statements. For many institutions the mission statements serve more as justifications for turning away donations that just have nothing to do with the collections already on hand. Still, most of these libraries on my list have big enough budgets to spend at least some money pursuing their stated collecting goals. A simple look at some of their statements shows us some general themes.

These include building the collections, focusing on history and the needs of a diverse community, as well as the faculty and students on campus, providing them with services and a well-prepared staff so that they can conduct their research. One notable point is the greater interest in easily purchased and displayed books, rather than the difficult to obtain and describe archival collections. New and rare types of materials both get mentioned frequently, as do American and the general topic of World History. The main thing to notice with this simple type of review is that libraries do not mention any overarching body of standards to be maintained. The campus determines how the library does its work, and the needs of the campus community is really why the library exists, whatever they may say about being available to the community, which might suggest larger reasons why special collections do not have much to say on Twitter about dangers to cultural heritage or the issues of preservation.