Report on the Meknes Libraries



Meknes Libraries
Meknes is one of the oldest cities of Morocco dating back a thousand years.  Moulay Ismail assumed power in 1672 and reigned for 55 years during a period of unification.* Since it became the capital of the Alawite Dynasty, it has always been associated with the military.   Beginning in 1912 under the Protectorate, the French used the city as its military headquarters for which it continues to the present time.  Today, this administrative capital has a population of 536,232.
            Although Meknes is not known as the intellectual capital, it contains numerous family collections of manuscripts dating to the 14th century.  Increasingly, families are donating their family collections of manuscripts to libraries which are better prepared to conserve and preserve them.  Some manuscripts were housed in one of seven mosques located in the old city. 
            In summer 2009, I traveled to Meknes to visit libraries and study Arabic as a continuation of my 2008 trip to Mali where I visited libraries acquiring ancient manuscripts written in Arabic.  Many of the Mali manuscripts originated in Morocco were subsequently transported by Tuaregs to Timbuktu (Hunwick & Boye, 2008).  Prior to my departure, I conducted a library search for articles using several databases.  I also corresponded with several librarians in the African and Middle East Section of the U.S. Library of Congress and members of the Africana Librarian Council (African Studies Association).  
My Meknes host, a former library assistant and assistant dean, chauffeured me around to several libraries in the new city; while the director of the Arab-American Language Institute of Morocco and I arranged visits in the old city.  In total, I visited six libraries where potential manuscripts might be located.  I did not visit any pre-collegiate school libraries since schools were not in session.  Likewise I did not inquire about manuscripts in bookstores.

Old City Great Mosque Library
            Although the Great Mosque is over 300 years old and the Medersa Bou Inania where boys studied over the centuries down the street, the current library building is relatively new.  There are several signs outside the building indicating its location.  The current library is on the second floor, adjacent to the mosque.  The facility contains a director’s office, an audio-visual room, a large reading room with natural lighting seats 30 patrons, and a storage room.  The shelves are attached to the outer walls of the reading room.  Patrons obtain an identification card to use the materials which they show upon arrival.  Patrons complete a slip of paper for each item that they wish to use.  The signage is in Arabic for the major Dewey Decimal labels.  The books are recorded in an acquisition book and then recorded by author and title (not subject) on cards for the card catalog.  The books are identified by subject or topic on paper lists.  My first trip I spent over an hour looking at books and talking with the technician.
            On the second visit with a group of U.S. students, the staff was not as welcoming.  They forbade photographs and touching the books.  When students asked questions, they were not very responsive.  On that day, the staff did not explain any of the services.  They mentioned to the guide that the manuscripts were in Fez being preserved.  

Meknes Public Library (founded in the 1920s; moved to the current building in 1962)  
            The Meknes Public/Municipal Library is located on the first floor of the City Hall but at a side entrance.  It was originally founded by the French provincial government for government documents.  Most of the materials are legal tomes in Arabic and French with a few additional recreational novels in French. Although not officially stated, this collection is basically an archive of government documents.  It is a non-lending library with a closed stack.  There is a card catalog room where patrons can locate materials by author and title.  A reference librarian or staff person assists patrons as needed.  Some of the large set reference materials are available in the reading room.  There is a large conservation room for covering documents and repairing others.  The library has a large collection of maps from the colonial period.
            The staff was most helpful and interested in other library policies.  Neither of the staff had formal library training and the city budget did not permit them to visit other similar libraries.

French Institute Library (founded in the 1960s)  
            This library is a service of the Embassy of France and carries all the liberties of that government.  There are 12 libraries in Morocco in major cities.   The service is at cost and is not free.   Material selections unlike the other libraries were made by the librarians and are purchased through book sellers in France.  The librarians are not restricted by import duties and censorship common to the other libraries.  The library supports the program of the Institute’s events including films, theater, and art exhibits. 
The children’s program attracts a wide variety of children and parents throughout the academic year.  The director encouraged me to go through his boxes of photographs documenting the annual activities. The children’s section had a huge collection of graphic novels/comics in various formats.  Young patrons used the computers to play video games. 
In addition to books, the library contained journals, newspapers, videos/ CDs /DVDs for children and adults.  The two-story facility had reference librarians on both floors.  Several of my colleagues in Meknes mentioned that they were members of the French Institute for family activities and to maintain their French.  This library was a major contribution to Meknes.

Moulay Idriss University, College of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Library (founded in 1983)
            In 1998-99, Moulay Ismail University enrolled more than 22,000 students (Ofori-Attah, 2008: 66).  Since that year, the enrollment has nearly doubled.  The demand on the library services has increased even with the extensive use of personal computers and other technologies.  Many students depend on the Internet for information.  Because the current library does not have wireless service or multiple electrical outlets, many students work in their rooms rather than at the library.  There is no reading room in either the Arabic or European collections rooms.  A new modern library is in demand.
            The collection comprises books in Arabic on a variety of subjects.  There are also dissertations stacked to the ceiling and a collection of maps.  The two rooms are not climatized so there is some deterioration of materials from bugs.
            There is no on-line catalog; rather students and staff inquired about books on a given topic.  Since the stacks are closed, a staff member brings materials to the patron.

Médiathèque Mohammed Lamnouni (founded in the 1990s)  
            In contrast to the French Institute Library, the Médiathèque Mohammed Lamnouni library provides similar services but in Arabic.  As in the case of the French Institute, this library is adjacent to a municipal theater.  Built on the edge of a wadi (a dry river bed), a patron descends a staircase into the library.  On the left is the catalog room and the right is a directors suite.  The current collection is to the left shelved in metal bookcase throughout the room.  Several computers allow for on-line searches as well as personal work.  To the right is the children’s room.  Like the French Institute, there is theater seating for presentation.  Most of the children’s books are in French.  The ones in Arabic are few; however, the newly hired children’s librarian is eager to increase the collection.  A room in the back holds the 19th century books donated by various families while a conditioned, lock room holds the 14-18th century manuscripts.  The librarian has had consultants present ideas on preservation and conservation of the manuscripts.  Because of the low humidity, some recommend fans and dehumidifiers while others insist on total darkness and air conditioning.  In any case, the cost is high for maintaining such a valuable collection.

Ministry of Islamic Affairs Library (2009)
            This facility opened in January 2009 for public use.  Many patrons were from the University seeking a quiet study space and participation in the 10 annual lecture programs.  At the time of my visit, the computers were in place; however, the software had not been loaded on them.  The children’s section had minimal materials and shelves were storing a private collection of 19 century manuscripts.  Patrons had to check all bags in the facility and were not permitted to take pictures.  The director was protective if his beautiful facility including the lecture hall (600 seats), meeting rooms, reception room, and cafeteria.  King Mohammed VI had inaugurated the building in January.
            The library itself was located in one wing of the building.  The collections by subject were found in various reading rooms.  A desk for a reference librarian was in each room.   The cataloging and acquisition took place in a basement room.  Eight employees worked in this area.  Five were subject specialists and three MLS catalogers did original cataloging since the materials from the Ministry did not come shelf–ready.  Although one of the librarians indicated that there were no databases, he indicated that the librarians were asking for funding.

In summary, I found the libraries and librarians had several common characteristics.  For example, nearly every library did own an operational computer for administrative work.  The librarians at the French Institute and the College of Arts and Science stated that many patrons had their own computers and did not need to come to the library to use the library computers.  Few libraries had on-line catalogs other than the French Institute.
            Selection of current materials as well as older collection was the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture or a government agency.  Librarians had a very limited budget.  Several of the librarians wanting to build a children’s collection complained about the difficulty in locating books for children and youth in Arabic.
            Most libraries were non-circulating and/or closed stacks.  The staff explained that Moroccans were new to the library concept of borrowing.  They claimed that many patrons would abuse the books if they were allowed to take them away from the building.  Perhaps this sentiment reflects the estimated literacy rate for Morocco to be about 75% for men and 40% for women.  Nevertheless, Meknes is a large, educated population.  Many families living in the new city use the French Institute library since it circulates its materials.
            Professional development is limited.  Although Morocco has a library school at Mohammed V University in Rabat, few administrators hold formal degrees from the institution.  Even though there is an organization for professional librarians, few attend for reasons of funding and time.  Several formally trained librarians indicated an interest in participating in a U.S. Fulbright-type exchange program.  However, several admitted that it would be difficult to leave their family and professional duties.  The librarians at the French Institute were trained in France and participate in professional development their or activities organized by French Institute librarians around the world.
            Each librarian expressed several concerns.  One was the funding for the library collection.  Even the new Islamic Library director felt that he did not have sufficient funding for the maintenance, space & renovation, the technology, purchasing of databases, and the staffing.  Other librarians expressed the disappointment in the lack of participation and use.  A third concern was the lack of training in addition to the in-house experience. 
            Meknes has had a large Jewish population in the past.  Most of the families have moved to Casablanca; however, a school and library remains in the old and new city. 


*The Sultan of Morocco was the first leader to recognize the United States as being independent in 1776.  The U.S. created one of its first embassies in Tangier known as the American Legation.  It now houses a museum, library, and the headquarters for the American Institute of Maghrebi Studies.

Patricia S. Kuntz
University of Wisconsin


Bibliography
Hunwick, J.O. & Boye, A.J.  (2008).  The hidden treasures of Timbuktu: Rediscovering Africa’s literary culture.  New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Ofori-Attah, K.D.  (2008).  Going to school in the Middle East and North Africa.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. [pp. 14, 66-69, 106]

Service de Coopération et d’Action Culturelle.  (2007).  Le guide: Médiathèques de resseau culturel français au Maroc.  Rabat: Ambassade de France au Maroc.

Ministry of Culture – Libraries: http://www.minculture.gov.ma/fr/Biblioth%E8que%20G%E9n%E9rale%20et%20Archives%20de%20Rabat.htm  Retrieved September 9, 2009.

 

Contacts
French Institute: http://omari2002.ifrance.com/INSTITUT%20FRANCAIS%20de%20Meknes.htm
http://www.ambafrance-ma.org/institut/fes-meknes/medias/mediathequemeknes.pdf

Mehdi El-Amrani,  Dir. Email: mediatheque.dir@ifmeknes.ma
Meryem Daoudi, Children’s librarian. Email: daoudimery@hotmail.com

Islamic Affairs, Pl. du Dr. Abdelkrim El-Khatibe
            Mohammed El-Idrissi, Dir.  Email: elidrissi.m’hammed@yahoo.com

Meknes Public Library, (end of Rue Antserape, in City Hall)           
            Rashid Harbry, Zankat al-Quohdah al-Afrique
             
Médiathèque Mohammed Lamnouni, Route 21
            Nema Benhallam, Dir.

Moulay Ismail Univ., Col. Arts & Science, (Zitovne)
            Ibn Brahim Saad, Dir.

Old City Great Mosque Library, Rue al-Adoul
http://www.minculture.gov.ma/fr/Bibliotheque%20de%20la%20grande%20mosquee%20meknes.htm
Driss Errami, Dir
            Abd al-Majir al-Hasini, Dir.
            Amina Al-carathishi, former school teacher, education program

 

Jewish Libraries (not visited)
Beth ‘Habad, 1 rue Sinai N.M.

Bibliothèque Chayah Mouchka Lubavitch, 4 Rue du Ghana, Ville Nouvelle Reizel Raskin, Dir.: http://www.jewish-heritage-travel.com/Jewish-heritage/category/talmud-torah/

 

Professional Libraries (not visited)
Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers – Meknès   Marjane 2 BP 4024 Bni Mhamed: http://biblio.ensam-umi.ac.ma/opac_css/

Moulay Ismail University, Faculté des Sciences Library: http://www.fs-umi.ac.ma/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=18

Bibliothèque Régionale de Meknès, Ave. Bir Enzarane: http://www.jamiati.ma/bibliotheques/bibliotheques_maroc/publiques/Pages/Fiche_detail_bib_pub.aspx?Id_CodBib=107

Appendix:
Comparison of Meknes Libraries

 

Old City Great Mosque Lib.

Meknes Public Library
(City Hall)

Médiathėque Mohammed Lamnouni

Moulay Idriss Univ., Letters & Science – Lib.

Ministry of Islamic Affairs– Lib.

French Institute – Lib.
Cultural C.                        

Date

1948

1962/1920s

1990s

1983

2009

1960s

Hours

M-F 9-12; 4-8

M-F  8:30-6:00

M-F 10-5

M-F 10-5

M-F 9:30-5:30

T,F
9:30-12:15;
 2:30-6:30
W/S
9:30-6:30
R 2:30-6:30

Budget

No

No

?

$200,000 overhead

No

Yes

Languages of collection

Arabic (French)

Arabic (French, English)

Arabic
(French, English)

Arabic (European)

Arabic (French)

French

Catalog system

Dewey

Dewey

Dewey

Dewey

Dewey

Dewey

Catalog

Card catalog (old) & lists  (new)

Card Catalog  & Lists by topic

Card catalog (old/ new)

Lists by topics

On-line

On-line

Databases

No

No

No

No

“Yes”

Yes

Preservation

?  Fez

Yes

Yes

?

Yes

Yes

Employees

1 librarian (MLS)
3 staff

14 (2 met)

1 (MLS)
1 (archivist)
6 staff (met 3)

1 librarian (MLS)
20 staff
2 conservators

5 librarians 10 staff
5 (3 MLS)   
  catalogers

10 (3 met)

Stacks

Open

Closed

Open general
Closed manuscripts

Closed

Open

Open

Collection

Adult + few children’s (manuscripts?)

Adult – maps
legal documents

Adult & children + ancient manuscripts

Adult – maps, dissertations, books

Adult & children

Adult & children

Computers

2

 

5 = 3 admin
      2 patrons

2 admin

40-several rooms + scanners, projectors

5  wireless facility

Inter-Lib. Loan

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Disabilities

No – stairs

No - stairs

No – stairs

Yes

Yes
Braille
Software

Yes

Programs

 

 

Wed. Children’s hour (Ar.)

 

lectures

Wed. & Sat. Children’s
Hour (Fr)
Bibliobus
Lecture, films, exhibits

Circulations

Non-circulating

Non-circulating

Circulating
1 wk

Circulating
1 wk
(1-2 bks)

Non-Circulating

15 days – 6 books

Collection

4500

17,000

Manuscripts in conditioned room
(many stolen)

 

12,000

90 journals 4 newspapers dissertation
62,000 titles

Selection process

Ministry of Culture

Provincial government

Ministry of Culture
Rotation periodically

Faculty, librarians &
Ministry of Education

Ministry of Islamic Affairs

Librarians