Hundreds of scholars, officials, librarians and journalists all gathered at the Opera House small hall to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the creation of the Egyptian National Library and Archives. The speeches reflected the importance of the heritage of the Arab world, now consolidated at the first and oldest archive, soon to be digitised and available to everyone..
The event was attended by Farouk Hosni the Minister of Culture, as well as Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, head of Al-Azhar and officials from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and the Supreme Council for Culture. A host of prominent visitors from the Arab world and beyond joined in the celebration.
The first Egyptian kotobkhana was established in 1870 by Khedive Ismail on the advice of Ali Pasha Mubarak, one of the pioneers of science and knowledge at that time. Ever since, the library has published major books, collected manuscripts, edited and confirmed many old texts. As soon as the printing press made its way into Egypt, Dar El-Kotob published numerous texts, funded by generous donations from various scholars. Since then, many laws have been passed to protect the Library and scholars have gifted their private collections of books and manuscripts.
However, the library has not stopped paving its way into the future, as Leila Galal Rizk, the director of the National Library, explained in her opening remarks. She told the audience how the library has embarked on an ambitious project to document and digitise the thousands of books, manuscripts and even Arabic papyri in its possession, in an attempt to preserve these treasures for the future and enable access beyond the borders of the library.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference spoke of his childhood, playing next to his father who worked on the Ottoman heritage which comprised part of the library’s treasures. He told of his fondness for the building and the books that gave him many hours of reading pleasure. He recalled with warmth the names of employees of the library who knew the place inside out and spent years in the service of scholars coming to study or undertake research.
A new location for the Manuscript Archives is currently under construction dedicating over 5,000 metres of land in the Fostat neighbourhood in Old Cairo. This will house all the manuscripts which will be collected under Law no.8 2009, which requires all Egyptian ministries and national organisations to store their archives. Scholars have complained about the condition of documents and the difficulty of access to the Library. This will hopefully be changed according to Khaled Fahmy, head of the history department at the American University in Cairo, who intends to take his students to visit the Library and make the archives part of the curriculum.