Facing ISIS threat, Iraq digitizes national library

BAGHDAD (AP) — The dimly-lit, dust-caked stacks of the Baghdad Na-tional Library hide a treasure of the ages: crinkled, yellowing papers hold-ing the true stories of sultans and kings; imperialists and socialists; occu-pation and liberation; war and peace.

These are the original chronicles of Iraq’s rich and tumultuous history — and now librarians and academics in Baghdad are working feverishly to preserve what’s left after thousands of documents were lost or damaged at the height of the U.S.-led invasion.

Now, as Islamic State militants set out to destroy Iraq’s history and culture, including irreplaceable books and manuscripts kept in the militant-held city of Mosul, a major preservation and digitization project is underway in the capital to safeguard a millennia worth of history.

In darkrooms in the library’s back offices, employees use specialized light-ing to photograph some of the most-precious manuscripts. Mazin Ibrahim Ismail, the head of the microfilm department, said they’re testing the process with documents from the Interior Ministry under Iraq’s last monarch, Faisal II, who ruled from 1939 to 1958.

“Once restoration for some of the older documents from the Ottoman era, 200 to 250 years ago, is completed, we will begin to photograph those onto microfilm,” Ismail said. He said the digital archives, which will not be made available immediately to the public, is more to ensure their content survive any future threat.

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