The Secret Library of Darayya

By Delphine Minoui

Wherever there are libraries, there are threats to libraries. Any collection of books needs both care and readers, without which they will decay into paper and dust (or, with digital libraries, into meaningless, unread sequences of code). Libraries have been targets in war since the sacking of Alexandria. In Syria, in 2013, after the Assad government’s repeated attacks on the Damascus suburb of Daraya, a group of Darayans began to rescue and store books lost in the rubble of the bombing raids. They brought them to a hidden, underground room and created “the Secret Library of Daraya.” The actions in Daraya pose a striking parallel to work that began that same year in Rotterdam, where neoliberalism had destroyed the local library (see PoL #19, by Maurice Specht). In both cases, creating a “collection” of books became the site for embodied collectivity and politics. French journalist Delphine Minoui’s award-winning account of the work in Daraya, The Book Collectors, was published recently in an excellent English translation by Lara Vergnaud (available from FSG). The opening ten pages are republished here

The Secret Library of Daraya

6 August, 2022