LAHORE: Journalist Shrabani Basu and Bodley’s Librarian in the University of Oxford Richard Ovenden discussed the latter’s new book, Burning the Books, in a session of the Lahore Literature Festival (LLF) on Saturday.

The book of Ovenden is about history being under attack. He spoke about how the Bodleian Library started in Oxford in 1320CE and later grew into a network of 27 libraries.

“A defining characteristic of it is that it has a national role being a great research repository. All books being published were being given to the library for free. We also have digital records. We have records of Oxfam too. Information that is born in digital form is also a big part, not necessarily in print form.”

Ovenden said the Bodleian Library was a hybrid library.

“The reading room spaces have never been more popular and some of them are very historic and beautiful. The staff is about 500 and spread across. There are 13m printed books and several hundreds of thousands were added every year,” he added.

Burning the Books is about history and knowledge under attack, starting from Mesopotamia and destruction of knowledge there down to Nazi Germany.

“My job is about passing knowledge to the next generations. It’s about the rights of the individuals, the identity of communities the health of society and democracy in general. I was concerned that knowledge was under threat everywhere,” Ovenden said.

He revealed that destroying records within the UK was also happening only to support political claims.

“I thought this showed how destruction was actually happening in reality.”

Ovenden said in former Yugoslavia in 1992 libraries were burnt down too. “We forget these things but how they send societies into degradation is obvious,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2021

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