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Mary-Jane Deeb, AMED Chief, Is Retiring

In the field of Middle Eastern and North African studies, Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb is a scholarly authority. And after 20 years of leading the Near East Section and the African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) of the Library of Congress, this authority will retire from the Library at the end of February to embark on new adventures!

Mary-Jane Deeb, with Alan Haley, Preservation Specialist, and Michael Albin, Chief of Anglo-American Acquisition, and Kristen Jenkinson-McDermott, a US military personnel. Baghdad, Iraq, 2003.

Mary-Jane joined the Library in 1998 as Arab World Area Specialist and later became Head of the Near East Section before taking on the role of Chief of AMED in 2005. With her cosmopolitan background, she brought to her job a wealth of expertise and leadership experience that very few could measure up to. After completing her doctorate at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, she taught for a decade at the American University in Washington, and was also Director of the Omani Program there. She later became the Editor of The Middle East Journal, the most important academic journal in contemporary Middle Eastern studies, and Director of the Algeria Working Group at The Corporate Council on Africa. Before that, she spent four years in Beirut, Lebanon, during its civil war, and worked for major international organizations, including the United Nations Economic Commission for Western Asia, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), America-Mideast and Educational and Training Services, Inc. (AMIDEAST), and the US Agency for International Development. She was a UN observer for the June 1997 Algerian legislative elections and later returned in 2000 to collect Algerian publications for the Library. She also transmitted her expertise and on-the-ground experience in classrooms at both Georgetown University and the George Washington University.

Librarian of Congress James Billington and his wife Marjorie, Mary-Jane Deeb and her husband Marius, and the Director of the National Library of Iran Mr. Boujnourdi. Isfahan, Iran, 2004.

Mary-Jane’s tenure at the Library is filled with exciting initiatives. In 2001, she helped establish Rockefeller Fellowships for Islamic Studies at the Library. In 2003, she led a Library mission to Baghdad to assist with the reconstruction of the National Library of Iraq. In 2004, she accompanied the Librarian of Congress on an official visit to Iran. In 2011, she led a training program in Dakar, Senegal for bibliographic representatives from 11 West African nations to collect West African publications for the Library. Under Mary-Jane’s leadership, AMED organized more than 540 public programs, displays and major exhibitions, showcasing the Library’s international treasures to expand public awareness of the Library’s collections and services. In addition to digitally preserving manuscripts and rare books from its collections, under Mary-Jane’s leadership, AMED expanded its digital collections to include unique and important collections and to create finding aids for them. Some of these resources include:

A photo taken at an LC symposium in 2008 commemorating the 50th anniversary publication of “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. From left to right: AMED staff – Eve Ferguson, Mary-Jane Deeb, Marieta Harper, Abdulahi Ahmed, and Angel Batiste; back row: Charles Stanhope; center: Chinua Achebe.

Other major Library projects that Mary-Jane initiated or collaborated include:

  • Profiles of Remarkable Women – a series of interviews conducted in Istanbul by Mary-Jane in 2002 with 6 exceptional Muslim women from Afghanistan, Turkey and the Arab world;
  • The launch of the Global Gateway in 2004 – a collaborative effort with the National Library of Egypt to digitize rare Arabic materials, which later grew to include other divisions in the Library and external partnerships;
  • The Conversations with African Poets and Writers series, which was established in 2008 in collaboration with the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, and, as of 2017, the Center for African Studies at Howard University; and
  • The Area Studies Social Media Program, established in 2016 in association with the Asian, European and Hispanic Divisions to introduce the Library’s international collections to the global audience via the “4 Corners of the World” blog and the “International Collections” Facebook page.

President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan and His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, visited the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room in May 2015.

More than a leader charged with developing the Library’s collections on the Middle East and Africa, as a prolific scholar, Mary-Jane has published several books and close to 190 book chapters, articles and book reviews, and presented at numerous conferences around the world, including one in Davos, Switzerland, during the 2018 World Economic Forum, and one in Nanjing, China, the same year. She appeared on many major TV news programs, including the Lehrer News Hour, John McLaughlin’s One on One, CNN, ABC World News, and CBS Evening News.  She has been quoted by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, etc.  She is currently working on a book on the Eastern Christians of the Middle East, which is to be published in 2020 by Lexington Press.

A group picture of AMED staff taken in 2011, including retired members:  Peggy Pearlstein, Fawzi Tadros, Chris Murphy, and the late Ibrahim Pourhadi. Photo by Levon Avdoyan in the Northeast Pavilion of the Jefferson Building.

By this point, one would think of Mary-Jane as a brilliant, intimidating diva. Brilliant indeed. An intimidating diva? Not even close. Many at the Library who have had the opportunity to work with her admire her leadership style – approachable, diplomatic, consultative, inclusive, consensus-building, and all with a good sense of humor! In an interview about her experience working at the Library, Mary-Jane responded: “Working in a library with other people who share my passion [for books] is a privilege. If I talk about a favorite book, I can immediately find a kindred soul who has read the book and loves it, too. Where else can you find this communion of taste and affinity for books?” Her love for books and knowledge extends beyond academic subjects — the publication of four mystery novels and owning an impressive collection of cookbooks can attest to that!

The marks Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb has made through her contributions for this institution will last for a long time. Today and for decades to come, people will be able to use the international collections she has helped develop and will benefit from the knowledge she has helped build through AMED’s public services and programs.

Happy retirement, Mary-Jane!

African and Middle Eastern Division staff gather for a group photo before division chief Mary-Jane Deeb’s retirement, February 25, 2019. In the picture are Nawal Kawar, Mary-Jane Deeb, Christal Grant, Joan Weeks, Eugene Flanagan, General and International Collections Director, Laverne Page, Eve Ferguson, Sharon Horowitz, Muhannad Salhi, Betty Harris, Hirad Dinavari, Marieta Harper, Fentahun Tiruneh, Emma Stevens, Anchi Hoh, Sharif Adenan, Ann Brener, Abdulahi Ahmed, and Rachel Becker. Photo by Shawn Miller.

A list of scholarly publications by Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb:

A list of mystery novels by Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb:

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