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Once-magnificent library is tattered and worn

Published Sunday, August 24, 1997, in the Miami Herald
Once-magnificent library is tattered and worn
Herald Staff Writer
CAIRO -- The request was simple enough: The librarian was
asked for X-rays of the mummy of King Tutankhamen. But at
the Library of the Egyptian Museum, no request is so easy.
After nearly a two-hour search, the young librarian came
up with dusty X-rays of all the other royal mummies --
but King Tut's were nowhere to be found. Library director
Adel Farid apologized. The loss of a set of X-rays, he
said, was symptomatic of a bigger problem. This once-magnificent,
two-story repository of Egypt's  oldest books and prints,
among other treasures, is  decaying a little bit more each
day. And, Farid said, there's no help on the horizon --
at least not from the  government.
Scant support:
In the last two years, Egypt's Antiquities Department has
provided exactly 54 pounds -- the equivalent of $15.92 --
for maintenance.
``It's unbelievable, I know,'' said Farid, 45. ``We don't
have a penny for the library. Even when we get a parcel
from the post office, I have to go pay for it out of my
own money -- money I've put aside for my children.''
When Farid became director of the century-old library
more than two years ago, he requested five computers from
the government. He received none. He requested 50 chairs so scholars
could sit. He received  none.  He requested a maintenance
budget of $500 -- to be  replenished after the approval  of receipts.
He received  petty cash -- 27 pounds, or $7.96, which has
been  replenished twice in two years. The government said
it  has no funds.
The head of the Antiquities Department was not available
for an interview. But a well-known Egyptologist on the
state payroll, Zahi Hawass, the head of the Giza
Pyramids, said the library's downfall is a tragedy.
``That library should be the No. 1 library in the
world,'' Hawass said. ``If we don't restore the library,
with all the treasures in there, how can we teach the
upcoming generations of archaeologists in Egypt?''
Hawass never goes to the library anymore.
``I hate it,'' he said. ``It's dirty. It's dusty. I can't
stand going inside.''
In need of repair:
The library, the southeastern corner of the grand,
French-designed Egyptian Museum, is indeed as Hawass
describes it. The faded brown curtains hang half off
their hooks. Ceiling fans don't work. The second floor is
closed. There are no chairs.
And yet, the possibilities of restoring this library to
the grand days of old don't seem entirely farfetched. Not
at first glance, anyway. Beautiful floor-to-ceiling
cherry-wood bookcases line rooms. On the shelves, behind
glass, the library's 50,000 volumes on ancient Egypt are
perhaps unrivaled anywhere in the world.
But one look at the demoralized staff, and at dejected
director Farid, brings home the scope of the problem,
which extends to a persistent rodent infestation.
The 30 librarians, paid about $30 a month, always eat
lunch at their desks. After closing, mice always clean
``We've tried to kill these mice, but three months after
spraying, they are back,'' Farid said.
The infestation in the museum's basement would require
exterminators to frequently spray the entire mazelike
area, which is the size of a city block.
"We're trying to keep the books in as good a condition
as possible,'' said the Cambridge-educated Farid. ``All I
can do is write letters asking for funds and asking the
public to donate books. But the problems are huge here.
The salaries are a disaster. People are living with the
help of God, I think.''
Silver lining:
There's one bright note: When Farid took over, he
discovered that 350 antique books were missing. After the
government said it would force the librarians to pay for
the books, about 320 of the volumes mysteriously
There's even some hope for the next person looking for
King Tut's X-rays: The museum's director of conservation
said he has an extra set, and would give it to the

The Museum Security Network
dedicated to protection of cultural property

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