Monday, September 22, 2014

Iraqi Delegation Tours the Library Company

On August 15, the Library Company hosted a delegation of Iraqi librarians and museum administrators on an official visit under the US Department of State’s International Visitors Leadership Program. Responsible for “American Corner” centers in Baghdad, Basrah, Dohuk, Erbil, Maysan, and Sulaimaniyah, the dignitaries spent part of their first day on a 21-day tour to American cities across the country at the Library Company.

Our Iraqi colleagues were eager to learn about the Library Company’s history, especially the institution’s foundational role in the development of American civil society. But, as so often during the course of a tour of Ben Franklin’s library, it was when the curators began showing our visitors the materials they had selected from the collections that the real power of this institution hit home. Among the items the visitors viewed were a 17th-century Koran printed in Hamburg from the collection of James Logan, and a manuscript page containing a Koranic verse that had been penned in 18th century St. Domingue by an enslaved Muslim man originally from West Africa. These documents speak eloquently to the Library Company’s role as a premier archive of early America’s sophisticated connections with the rest of the world.  

In addition to the Library Company, the group visited the National Constitution Center, the Free Library, and Independence National Historic Park. The State Department had selected these four sites to demonstrate the role that American libraries and community-based cultural institutions play in building a vibrant democracy. The visit was facilitated by Philadelphia’s own Citizen Diplomacy International, which is the exclusive State Department partner in the region for cultural exchange visits.

American Corners are the result of partnerships between the public affairs departments of US embassies and host institutions abroad that provide foreign citizens with a window into American culture and values. Often housed in libraries and other community spaces, these centers attract younger audiences and provide cultural programming targeted to students who are interested in knowing more about US culture and study in the United States.

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