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Faculty ship books to Baghdad

The faculty of MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning recently shipped 300 pounds of books to the Institute of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Baghdad in an effort to help replenish its devastated library.

Roughly 200 books and journals were sent, covering economic development, environmental protection, infrastructure planning, remote sensing, landscape architecture and geography. Some books were even historical urban planning books focused on the infrastructure of Middle Eastern cities, including Baghdad and other historically significant areas of Iraq that have been destroyed by the war.

The gift came about because of an MIT visit last spring by Abdelwehab Ahmed, head of the environmental planning department at the University of Baghdad. Ahmed hadn't been out of Iraq for 17 years, since the rise of Saddam Hussein, nor had he had contact in all that time with the wider planning community. Faced now with the challenge, along with his colleagues, of rebuilding Baghdad, he spent a semester here taking full advantage of all the opportunities MIT afforded.

When he went home at the end of the term, faculty members combed through their private libraries to put together a gift to send after him. They collected nearly twice as many books as they shipped; because Iraq is a war zone only Priority Mail is delivered, and for a shipment of 300 pounds that amounted to a significant cost. The remaining books will be shipped when mailing restrictions are lifted.

Initiated by Larry Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning -- who also helped arrange Ahmed's visit -- the gift was one of many such shipments from around the world, as university colleagues try to help rebuild Iraq's libraries. There are 22 universities and 42 technical colleges in Iraq, all of which have faced decline over the last 20 years. And in the looting and fires that occurred during and after the fall of Hussein, many classrooms, libraries, buildings and laboratories were burned, while computers, furniture, fans, windows, doors -- everything of value -- were taken or destroyed.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 5, 2005 (download PDF).

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