Nancy Dupree has been a real-life legend in Afghanistan for 50 years. She has dedicated herself since 1962 to documenting and preserving Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. Her life’s work, and that of her late husband Louis Dupree, has culminated in today’s ACKU and a state-of-the art new ACKU facility that officially opened last weekafter several challenging years of planning and construction.
Nancy Dupree has received many Afghan and international awards for her innovation and leadership at ACKU. At the age of 86, she continues to help sustain ACKU with purpose and strength in supporting education in Afghanistan and preserving Afghan history and culture for future generations.
ACKU’s early history was discussed in Mrs. Dupree’s first interview with Edward Zellem. Subsequent interviews discusses ACKU's nationwide ABLE library program and the design of the new ACKU building.
Edward Zellem: Hello again, Mrs. Dupree. It’s great to continue the conversation. As a famous Afghan Proverb says, “Ze gahwaara taa guhr daanesh bejoye.” .ز گهواره تا گور دانش بجوی (Seek knowledge from cradle to grave). This sounds like a proverb that describes what ACKU helps people do. Now that we’ve learned about ACKU’s history, the ABLE program and ACKU’s new facility, we’d be grateful for a few of your thoughts on ACKU today and in the future.
Nancy Hatch Dupree: That particular Afghan Proverb describes ACKU’s goals very well. Education and knowledge, and the tools to pursue them, are so important in life. Striving to gain awareness and understanding through the pursuit of knowledge enables us to live in peace with one another.
So our outreach is broad. Who can tell how ACKU will evolve? I cannot say at this point.
EZ: ACKU has been called the “de facto National Library of Afghanistan.” Is that true?
NHD: No, I would certainly not like to say that. There is a National Public Library in Kabul and a large network of about almost one hundred Public Libraries scattered around the country. They offer works on various general subjects just as any Public Library does. The Ministry of Information and Culture is seeking to develop them further with better support on library management, regular supplies of materials and books, computer skills and internet. It’s a huge job that requires a lot of resources and funding.
Here at ACKU we concentrate on developing a very specialized collection consisting mainly of materials about Afghanistan. One could say perhaps that ACKU is the region’srichest collection of materials on Afghanistan. ACKU’s collection includes both historical and current books, documents, newspapers and periodicals. The posters and various ephemera will gain significance in the future.
ACKU's acquisitions staff are very active in gaining new books
and documents for the region's richest collection on Afghanistan
Regarding acquisitions for the ACKU Collection, ACKU employs an acquisitions officer who makes a daily round of agencies and organizations that produce reports, newsletters, or analyses. A daily check on the internet for articles of substance also is made, and those considered important are downloaded and catalogued. Friends of ACKU often write recommending various works. Authors often send ACKU copies of their publications. The budget also contains a generous line for the purchase of books.
EZ: ACKU’s work is so important for the future of Afghanistan. How is ACKU funded today?
NHD: To begin with we must acknowledge the support of the Afghan Government, which gave us the funds to build the new facility. In addition, over the years public sector donors have been quite generous to ACKU. The Royal Norwegian Embassy has been and still is a major donor, along with USAID. The Open Society provided generous funding for several years and may continue. The Estonian Embassy has contributed significantly to the IT installations in the new facility. The Swiss helped with the expenses of architects and architectural supervision. The American Embassy funds the publishing of ABLE books and setting up mobile libraries, as well as equipment for digitization. A Canadian NGO made a major purchase of ABLE libraries.
The Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundationlobbies and fundraises from different sources. And more. Such a diverse, ad hoc approach will now have to be tightened, systemized and creatively expanded into other sectors if the future sustainability of ACKU is to be assured.
To pursue our goals, ACKU will need to develop more aggressive fund-raising techniques. We expect that the international aid environment will become less generous as the post-2014, post-NATO, post-ISAF era approaches and foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan. Many governments around the world are dealing with their own domestic economic problems, which also means less public money for international aid. This may require us to shift our funding strategy into a greater focus on the private sector, and even possibly looking into the possibilities of commercial support.
ACKU cataloguers and digitizers work every day to preserve new materials and ensure availablity
EZ: Very interesting. What else can you tell us about the future of ACKU in terms of technology, cataloguing and digitizing?
NHD: Naturally we shall focus on improving management and securing the collection while continuing our core activities of Acquisitions, Cataloging, Digitizing, and Dissemination. ACKU has many documents, including newspapers, which are in great demand by users but are printed on fragile paper which disintegrates with handling. So preservation is an important reason for digitizing. When paper is gone, it’s gone. But digitized books and documents can be preserved with multiple backups, used around the world and maintained forever for future generations.
We are happy to share digitized documents with international users and many have expressed great delight in finally finding long-sought documents at ACKU. But the primary purpose of the digitization project is to be able to share documents electronically with universities and libraries within Afghanistan.
EZ: ACKU’s motto is “Sharing Information for Nation Building.” Both those things are vital to the future development of Afghanistan.
NHD: That’s right. It must be kept in mind that cataloging and digitizing are not the only means of sharing information for nation building, which is the ACKU motto. With the new spaces now available, ACKU will initiate a series of monthly “events” designed to promote research and academic development through lectures, debates and seminars on social, economic, cultural and political issues, exhibitions, films, concerts and video dialoguing. In these ways we trust that ACKU will develop into an institution relevant to the future prosperity of Afghanistan and its people.
ACKU's chief librarian Rahim with Nancy Dupree and the author
EZ: Mrs. Dupree, thank you. We look forward to following ACKU’s continued progress and helping however we can. As the Afghan Proverb says, “Yaar zenda sohbat baqee.” (As long as the friendship lives, there will be more conversations.) یار زنده صحبت باقی