The University Record, February 18, 1998

U-M bibliography will help rebuild collection


This photo of the interior of the former National and University Library in Sarajevo shows remnants of the books it once held.

By Rebecca A. Doyle

In 1984, the city of Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, stood proudly between the mountain ranges that would host skiers and bobsledders that winter in the 14th Olympic Games. Sarajevo beat out Goteborg, Sweden, for the honor of hosting the games that year.

It was the year Scott Hamilton won the gold in men's figure skating, the year of Torvill and Dean, and of Katarina Witt.

Seven years later, it was the site of the Balkan conflict that destroyed the Zetra figure skating arena where Hamilton, Witt and Dean had so successfully competed.

In May 1992, Sarajevo's historic Oriental Institute was destroyed by bombing, followed only three months later by the destruction of the National and University Library. More than 1.5 million volumes and 600 sets of periodicals containing the history of Bosnia-Hercegovina were destroyed.

"The Nazis burned about 20 million books. But not in one place--in about 45 different places. Aug. 27, 1992, in Sarajevo, then, may have been the biggest book burning in history," Kemal Bakarsic wrote in his journal during and following the bombing. "In one day and one night, a million and a quarter books.

"The sun was obscured by the smoke of books, and all over the city, sheets of burned paper, fragile pages of gray ash. Catching a page you could feel its heat, and for a moment read a fragment of text in a strange kind of black and gray negative until, as the heat dissipated, the page melted to dust in your hand," Bakarsic wrote.

"I think the aim of this kind of aggression against museums, against libraries, is to erase our remembrance of who we are."

After the bombing of the National and University Library, Bakarsic, "kustos"--custodian--of the National Museum Library, and others worked for weeks to remove cherished volumes from the building before it, too, was bombed and burned. Many of the volumes were saved, including the Sarajevo Haggadah, more than 700 years old.

Bakarsic, who is professor of philosophy at Sarajevo University and assistant librarian at the National and University Library in addition to his librarian post at Bosnia's National Museum, visited the U-M last week to follow up on a project to help restore some of Bosnia's lost heritage. A bibliography of Bosniaca, produced by U-M assistant librarian Janet Crayne and presented to the National and University Library of Bosnia in November 1997, listed more than 2,700 works that are contained in the University's libraries.

Now, Bakarsic has begun the process of trying to rebuild the collections with copies in whatever form they may be available. His time is occupied by that and training scholars to be librarians of the future, many of whom are studying the methods available to electronically store and access historic works.

"We will ask for photocopies, or microfilm or perhaps electronic copies if there is nothing else available," he says.

Bakarsic praised the U-M for its methods of preparing the bibliography and expressed hopes that Bosnia would be able to one day have access to copies of the U-M holdings when a new building is completed.

The bibliography project was completed by the Working Group on Southeast European Studies, which was founded by the Center for Russian and East European Studies and the International Institute in 1994 to support scholarship on and in Southeast Europe.