Wendy Robinson, a Research Assistant at IIS’ Department of Academic Research and Publications (DARP), gave a presentation at the MELCOM International (Middle East Libraries Committee) conference in Sarajevo last month on the forthcoming publication of Encyclopaedia Islamica. Ms Robinson gave the talk to the conference of librarians working in the field of Middle Eastern studies at their annual meeting, held for the first time in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The talk introduced the IIS and Encyclopaedia Islamica, an abridged translation of the Persian Encyclopaedia Da’irat al-Ma‘arif-i Buzurg-i Islami. The first volume of the translation will be published in 2008 under the chief-editorship of Professor Wilferd Madelung and will encompass approximately 16 volumes.

The conference was hosted by the Bosniac Institute in Sarajevo and run in conjunction with the Faculty of Islamic Studies of the University of Sarajevo. More than fifty delegates were in attendance from institutions based in Europe, the Middle East and North America. The IIS was also represented at the conference by Ms Shellina Karmali, the Audio-Visual and Special Collections Librarian. Participants discussed recent developments in bibliography, cataloguing, technology, and co-operation between institutions, and showcased items of specific interest in their collections.

There was also considerable discussion of methods to preserve the unique cultural heritage of manuscript and rare book collections related to Islam and Muslims, particularly by digitisation. The importance of this endeavour was highlighted by a special visit to the former National Library in Sarajevo, 90% of whose collection (1.5 million volumes) was destroyed by shelling during the siege of the city. One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation by András Riedlmayer, of the Aga Khan program at Harvard University, on the destruction of Islamic cultural heritage in the Balkans. One of the worst examples of which was the burning in 1992 of Sarajevo’s Institute for Oriental Studies, resulting in the loss of the Ottoman provincial archives and the country’s richest collection of Islamic manuscripts (5,263 codices in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Persian and Bosnian).

Conference participants also visited the Ghazi Husrev Bey Library, the Faculty of Oriental Studies in Sarajevo, the Blagaj Tekke and the famous Stari Most (old bridge) and old city in Mostar, funds for the restoration of which were provided by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.