The Kabul University Library was established in 1932. At first it contained 5,000 books and had three librarians, two assistants, and a very limited budget. By 1992, it had fifty librarians, fifty clerical workers, and thirty blue–collar workers, as well as mechanics and other craftsmen. Its 200,000 books included 5,000 manuscripts, 10,000 books on Afghanistan Studies, 10,000 bound volumes of periodicals, 3,000 rare books, 10,000 electronic materials, 2,000 photo albums, 5,000 calligraphic specimens, and a strong collection of national archival and documentary materials. A collection of old national books donated by Professor Abdul Haque Batab was unique.
The Kabul University Library’s collections were classified by the Library of Congress system. There was modern electronic and photographic equipment from the United States, as well as a modern conservation centre.
Occupying an area of 500 by 100 meters, in two floors, the library was furnished with modern, heating, lighting, and telephone systems, and with soundproof rooms. Although it served the university, it was also the National Library of Afghanistan. In addition to being the focal point for United Nations publications, it owned the Union Catalogue for the city of Kabul’s libraries, as well as for other major cities of Afghanistan.
Its surroundings had changed beyond recognition. There were a lot of holes in the lawn. Trees and decorative bushes, untended, were growing wild. Even finding the path to the library was difficult. The large and proud building had been ruined, humbled to the dust. There were twenty–five holes in the walls and roof. Everywhere were big chunks of concrete and broken pieces of roofing, lighting, glass, the heating system, shelving, and cabinets. The library’s large and beautiful hall had become a mere path through rubble.
The library’s valuable materials had been sold on the national and international book markets. Some of the books and periodicals had been moved to military bases. The signs of burning, and destruction by weapons, were obvious. We saw where periodicals had been burned, and found a mass of ashes of manuscripts, rare books, and materials from the Afghanistan Studies Collection. The electronic and photographic collections, the national books and documents, and the collection donated by Professor Abdul Haque Batab had been sent to book markets, with only some charred materials left behind. Library materials which the vandals could not transfer to book markets were scattered all around.
The Afghan Cultural Association of Swedent started to work, shoveled out dust, ashes, and broken pieces of concrete. Collected any salvagable books, periodicals, and miscellaneous materials. Replaced and set upright any remaining shelves, card catalogues, and other equipment found reasonably intact. Closed the holes in the walls and roof, and covered broken doors and windows. In the meantime, the books and other materials which had been moved to military bases were returned to the library. Gradually these restorative efforts increased. University personnel came back to work. Photographers rushed to the library, and took documentary films and photos. As we continued to clean up the building, we collected fragments of war–damaged equipment and materials to build “The Museum of the Library War–Time Fragments.” This included charred books and periodicals, damaged shelves, and the like. Thus we reached the end of the first phase of our mission at the Kabul University Library.
Currently Kabul University Library, While it lost a substantial part of its books during the war, It got support to rebuild its major functions. All books are registered in a database and there is a PC in the entrance hall to automatically search the library database. In cooperation with the University of Arizona books and documents are scanned at Kabul University, stored on a Unix server in the library and then transferred for quality assurance to a server at the University of Arizona. Librarians report that there are about 48.000 of their books and documents available and accessible via the Internet.
Kabul University Library Key Facts
Street address: University of Kabul Central Library, University of Kabul, Jamal Mina, District 3, Kabul, Afghanistan
Mailing address: P O Box 335, Central Post Office, Kabul, Afghanistan
Telephone: 93 (0) 20 250 0236 & 93 (0) 700 210265
Proprietor: University of Kabul
Contact: Sarajuddin Alimi Director
Opening hours: 8am-5.30 pm Sat-Thu, 8am-12.30pm Fri, closed Sat-Sun