Library Of Congress To Consolidate African And Middle Eastern Reading Rooms

Breaking News

The National Coalition for History has learned that the Library of Congress plans to close the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room (AMED) effective December 2006. It will be closed until at least 2008, after which, according to a LC spokesperson, its “status is unknown.” A permanent exhibition gallery of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of early Americana is slotted to replace the AMED Reading Room.

The AMED Reading Room is the contact point for research being conducted on Africa, the Near East, Jewish and Biblical studies, ancient and modern Israel, and pre-Islamic Egypt. Typically, materials written in the vernacular of these areas are accessed through the AMED Reading Room.

The Library of Congress plans to combine the AMED Reading Room, including its Africa-related reference service, to a reading room shared with the European Division (ED). However, as both rooms contain over 20,000 volumes of reference collections, including dictionaries, handbooks, and bibliographic tools, critics of the LC proposed action assert that both collections will need to be cut in half. Dr. Mary Jane Deeb, director of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress, believes she may be able to find space to accommodate a separate AMED Reading Room.

Needless to say, the proposed closure is of concern, especially to historians of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Some allege that deleting or concealing “Africa” from among the LC’s public service points “insults or denigrates Africa.” Others are merely amazed that the LC would constrain public reference support for African research at a time when public interest in the continent is at a peak. According to one insider “It goes without saying that cuts in reference collections on Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Palestine make absolutely no sense during this time of national awareness, involvement, and sacrifice.”

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