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Cairo Office turns 60

(The following is a post by Muhannad Salhi, Arab World Specialist, Near East Section, African and Middle Eastern Division.)

A black and white photo showing 15 men and women.

Quincy Mumford, Librarian of Congress, (second row, standing third from left) and Cairo Office staff, 1963.

The Library of Congress’ Cairo Office is celebrating its 60th anniversary! One of the Library of Congress’ six overseas offices, the Cairo Office functions as a regional center for the acquisition and processing of collection materials from no less than 21 countries. The countries that fall under the office’s purview are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Gaza, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank, and Yemen. The Library of Congress as a whole and the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division in particular, rely exclusively on the Cairo Office to acquire materials from those countries, thereby allowing them to continue to build and expand the Library’s international collections. In addition to the acquisition of newly published books, the office also acquires revised editions of earlier works and out of print publications, among many other such retrospective acquisitions. The Cairo Office is further responsible for acquiring a wide variety in other formats such as newspapers, periodicals, maps, DVDs, CDs, and ephemera.

Though their primary focus is items in the vernacular, the Cairo Office acquires materials in no less than six languages. The bulk of these materials is in Arabic, followed by Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, French, and English, as well as other regional languages and dialects spoken in those countries. The materials come from a variety of sources, which include works that are published, issued, or distributed by commercial publishers; academic and research institutions; central and state government organizations; cultural, political, social, religious and scientific non-government organizations; and international and regional organizations. While working with all these regional institutions and organizations, members of the Cairo Office teams also attend all the major book fairs that take place in the region with a view to collecting the latest publications, including those of underrepresented communities, in accordance with the Library of Congress Collection Policy Statements.

In addition to commercial purchases, another stream for acquisitions the Office utilizes is the Gift and Exchange Program. Through this program, the Cairo Office collaborates with various government and non-government agencies, scientific, and cultural institutions from the region. The program allows these publishers to donate or exchange all manners of publications that are not otherwise commercially available, further enriching the Library’s collections. In return, the Cairo Office offers these institutions certain materials that are selected (namely duplicates), which are in excess of the Library’s needs.

Upon receipt of these materials in Cairo, local staff, many of whom are trained professional librarians from the host country of Egypt, process and catalog these new receipts, working in real-time directly in the Library’s online catalog to describe and assign subjects these materials. This informs the public as to what is being added to the Library’s permanent collections; in turn, these bibliographic records are shared with other libraries worldwide to save time in cataloging.

Furthermore, the Cairo Office has another secondary mission—the management and administration of the Middle East Cooperative Program (MECAP).  This program is open to participants from research institutions and non-profit libraries that wish to acquire commercially available publications from the countries for which the office is responsible. To accomplish this, the Cairo Offices utilizes two methods: lists and profiles. Lists are sent to participants on a bi-weekly basis, allowing these institutions to make their selections and send them to the Cairo Office, which then makes the purchases on their behalf. Institutional profiles based on their academic focus, on the other hand, allow the office to purchase items on an institution’s behalf; these purchases are consequently tailored to each institution’s guidelines, particular interests, and needs. Participants are billed annually, in advance, based on their selection activity during the previous year and for projected estimate costs for the forthcoming year. After the acquisition, processing, and cataloging, these books, newspapers, magazines and other library materials are then shipped to the Library in Washington D.C. and to MECAP participant libraries, to be added to their respective collections. Hence, the Cairo Office’s role extends well beyond the Library of Congress’ institutional needs to those of many institutions worldwide.

Please join us in wishing the Cairo Office a Happy 60th Birthday, with full appreciation of the vital role it has played over the years, not only for the Library but for a great number of institutions as well. We hope that they continue to do the excellent job that they have consistently done to the benefit of the Library as well as for all its partners around the globe.

For reference assistance or access to the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Collections, contact the AMED Reading Room via Ask a Librarian or call (202) 707-4188.

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