Monday, April 5, 2010

Džemal Bijedić University Library

[The closed stacks of the university library]

19 March, 2010

(Day 6)

We arrived at Džemal Bijedić University after a short bus ride through Mostar. These bus rides through town are when we saw most of the unrepaired war damage in Mostar and got a hint of how
severe and widespread it was in some areas. It's sobering to view, even 15 years after the fact.

We were officially greeted by two university officials. They gave a short history of the university and apologized for its modest appearance. Mirsada Behram translated for them. She is a representative of the university's Office for International Relations. We also met Edita Mulaosmanovic at this time. She is the Head of University Libraries. They guided us around the small bit of campus we saw and took us to a local cafe for lunch. Mirsada even took us to a grocery store before seeing us off.

The library tour was wonderful. Our group split in half in order for them to accommodate our numbers. My group tour was lead by one of the librarians, Jasminka Tresnjo, and an intern "Senior Fellow" named Inga Kotlo.

All the shocking facts about 100,000 books destroyed, having to start anew in underdeveloped government property, a predominantly donated collection, a 100 square meter library, a staff of two (!)...
It goes on and on, but there was no sense of self-pity or anger in these professionals. On the contrary, they were committed and purpose-driven. They were also quietly proud of what they have accomplished with so little. I think we all took their story to heart and imagined ourselves in their position. Would we be as able to pick up the pieces and forge ahead if circumstances were similar?

This university library visit has abruptly changed our focus on memory institutions which were so tied to place. What happens when you are forced to leave? Is memory destroyed? Can it be rebuilt or replaced? How would it feel to have your library destroyed precisely because it preserves cultural identity? It still boggles my mind at times.

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