Librarian diplomacy

James Billington, the librarian of Congress,visited Iran last week in what was the highest-level official trip by any US official since 1980, meeting with President Khatami (formerly the head of Iran's national library) and other top officials:

Billington said the goal of his trip was to discuss acquiring Iranian publications.


"We have a large collection on the Middle East and Islamic world, and we want to expand our collection," he said. "We're a world library, but our collection is not what it should be. The trip seemed important given our collection deficit and because the amount of material Iran has published" since relations were severed.


Billington said he also met with top officials at Tehran's parliamentary library, toured the national archives and had talks with experts on topics including Iranian films, Sanskrit and Russian architectural influences in Iran. He discussed sonnets with Simin Behbahani, one of Iran's most famous female poets. And he consulted with architects about a new facility to house Iran's national library and archives, similar to talks in other foreign capitals. He also spent two days touring Isfahan, about 200 miles south of Tehran.”


Good to see cultural exchange can still take place with the axis of evil.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.