A Message from the Director
It is a rare privilege to write these words as the first Director of the new Library of Alexandria. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a vast cultural complex rising on the shore of the Mediterranean, a stone´s throw away from the location of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, is an Egyptian enterprise of international scope and ambitions.
It is our hope that the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina will be a worthy successor to the Ancient Library of Alexandria. That great library was a unique ecumenical effort of the human intellect and imagination and remains engraved in the memories of all scientists and intellectuals to this day. The Ancient Library is undeniably the greatest chapter in the history of Alexandria. But our great city, founded by Alexander and home to Cleopatra, has had a remarkable history of 2300 years. It is a city of living history and renewed imagination that has inspired creative talents from Callimachus to Lawrence Durrel. In addition, the past is suddenly coming alive as underwater archaeology is bringing to light the sunken treasures of Alexandria, capturing the imagination of the world with glimpses of bygone glory.
So that is the setting for the new Library of Alexandria. A library for up to eight million books, three museums, five research institutes, several exhibition galleries, a planetarium and a conference center that can accommodate some 3000 seats. The beautiful new building, with its distinctive granite wall covered by the letters of all the world´s alphabets, is today a recognizable landmark of the new Alexandria.
But before we turn to the future, it is only fitting that we should salute all those whose vision and dreams launched this great enterprise more than a quarter century ago. From the role of UNESCO to the architects, engineers and contractors; from the management of the project to the workers who labored in the quarries. From the associations of friends of the Library all over the world to the eminent people who served on the international commissions; from the generous government donations to the many individual donations. All must be thanked for having brought us to this important stage.
And at this moment of transition, from a stage of bricks and mortar to that of books and learning, we salute the driving force behind this project, H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, who has tirelessly championed the cause of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and has charted the course for its continuing development. She presented her vision for the future at an open conference, at which she highlighted the four objectives of the great enterprise:
The new Bibliotheca Alexandrina is to be:
The window of the world on Egypt.
The window of Egypt on the world.
An instrument for rising to the digital challenge.
A center for dialogue between peoples and civilizations.
To implement this vision, a unique legislative structure has been created. It is based on Law No. 1 for 2001, which made the Bibliotheca Alexandrina an autonomous juridical person attached directly to the President of Republic. The Law gives H.E. the President vast latitude in determining the manner in which the library and its affiliated institutes shall be governed. The Governance structure has been articulated in Presidential Decree No. 76 for 2001. It creates three key organs: A Council of Patrons, chaired by the President himself; A Board of Trustees chaired by H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubabrak; and a Director selected by that Board of Trustees. I´m honored to have been chosen for that function. The Council of Patrons is still being formed but is to include several heads of states and governments and other eminent personalities. The Board of Trustees is composed of a remarkable group of eminent persons from all over the world. They are the key group guiding the work program of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and they have held their first official meeting on May 28-29, 2001.
The way forward is difficult and exciting. The Library will seek to establish itself as an international center of excellence in some chosen fields, to which the collections strategy shall be directed:
First, the Ancient Library of Alexandria, Alexandria and Egypt.
Second, the Mediterranean, the Arab world (without duplicating other efforts underway) and Africa. Then the rest of the world.
In terms of thematic focus, whether in collections or in organizing seminars and dialogues, we have identified four main themes:
Science (with a special emphasis on the ethics of science and technology).
Humanities (with special emphasis on the new scholarship and historical studies).
Arts and culture (with a special emphasis on intercultural dialogue and criticism).
Development (with a special emphasis on water and gender)
The means to move forward will be partnering with many eminent institutions of learning around the world, either in an ongoing manner or around specific events such as seminars, conferences, and exhibitions. But equally important to these links with eminent institutions will be the link to the civil society in Egypt and the world. It is here that the associations of friends have an invaluable role to play.
It will also be challenging to link up electronically with the rest of the world. We are starting on putting together a complex web of agreements to bring the marvels of the digital age to all parts of Egypt and the region, and to bring the fruits of Egyptian creativity and scholarship to the new digital world of instant communication and electronic publishing.
Supported by the Council of Patrons, guided by the Board of Trustees and in constant touch with the friends of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and all over the world, the staff of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina look forward to building over the years to come an institution worthy of bearing that great name. In the words of our chair of the Board of Trustees, we hope it will indeed be “a source of pride for Egypt and the world”.
Librarian of Alexandria