In 2003 Ms. Baker, 50-year old, head librarian of Basra’s Central Library worried when Iraqi government officials moved their offices into the building and put an anti-aircraft gun on the roof to prepare for war.
Fearing the worst, she secretly started moving books out of the building. With the help of a few dedicated people, she successfully moved about 70% of the collection, about 30,000 books, before the library was burned to the ground a few days later.
The the original account of Baker’s heroism was reported by Shaila Dewan in the New York Times (NYT) and inspired two children’s books: “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq” by Jeanette Winter in 2005, and “Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq,” a graphic-novel account by Mark Alan Stamaty in 2010.
Lesson Ideas for Responding to and Evaluating Texts for intermediate-senior students:
1. Have your students read Dewan’s NYT’s article and Wikipedia’s entry on the situation in Iraq in 2003 and then examine the picture books. Have them respond to the question that some New York students posed back in 2003 that, “The content of these books is too mature for the format.”
2. Read Cheston Hesser’s account of the burning of the ancient world’s single greatest archive of knowledge–the Library of Alexandria. Have a class discussion about why the burning of this library affects people so deeply and more generally, why the burning of any library is so upsetting. Have them think about what the modern version of the Alexandria disaster might be. (Hacked websites, internet sabotage, viral attacks of intellectual information, etc.)