Conceived by the anthropologist Louis Dupree as a central archive for the preservation of documents chronicling Afghanistan’s modern history, The Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU) was established in 1989. ACKU was initially located in Peshawar, Pakistan, and known as the ACBAR Resource and Information Center, until its move to a temporary space within the main library at Kabul University in 2005.
Directed by Professor Dupree’s widow and renowned scholar of Afghan culture and history, Nancy Hatch Dupree, ACKU remains on the Kabul University campus in an independent facility that was completed in 2013. The center houses more than 100,000 items, with 40% to 45% written in Dari, Pashto, and other indigenous Afghan languages. The rest are in English and other European languages.
ACKU aims to advance the rebuilding of Afghanistan by disseminating information and promoting research and the sharing of ideas on the socio-economic, cultural, and political features of Afghan society. To reach a wide group of patrons, ACKU opens its collection to students from all Afghan universities, as well as development professionals, researchers and students from other nations, and policy makers.
Considered the region’s most extensive repository of primary sources of information on Afghanistan, the ACKU collection comprises a diverse array of materials ranging from newspapers and monographs to volumes of Afghan literature. It also contains hundreds of maps and thousands of prints and slides.
Building and Cataloging a Valuable Resource
A major component of ACKU’s work consists of the expansion and systematized cataloging of its archive. Through various channels, ACKU acquires media related to Afghanistan in all print and audio-visual formats and across all subject areas. It purchases many of the materials on domestic and foreign markets, but individual and institutional donors from inside and outside of Afghanistan contribute a large quantity of the items. Locally, ACKU staff members gather relevant documents directly from non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, government agencies, and the United Nations. Such non-commercial materials account for 50% to 60% of the collection, including extensive records covering the Afghan refugee situation throughout the last three decades.
In order to hasten the availability of its resources to academics and researchers, ACKU conducts daily cataloging of its materials. The center utilizes a classification system that combines Library of Congress subject headings and call numbers with cataloging conventions established by the Bibliotheca Afghanica. Between 2014 and 2017, ACKU anticipates acquiring and cataloging 12,000 monographs and serials published in Afghanistan and 1,200 monographs produced in other countries. By the end of this period, the center will also add 80,000 contemporary and historical issues of Afghan newspapers to its collection.
Facilitating Online Access
Since implementing a database system based on Greenstone open-source software in 2007, ACKU has been digitizing selected items and plans to have 65% of its collection transferred to PDF format by 2017. At present, it has scanned over 1.2 million pages of information, and visitors to ACKU’s website can view more than 23,300 PDF titles. These efforts extend remote accessibility to ACKU’s archive and help ensure the preservation of delicate materials. Besides books and serial publications, the digital database contains photos, cultural heritage and historical documents, and broadsides from the Soviet-Afghan War period, among other items.
In addition to maintaining its online database, ACKU produces CDs and DVDs for distribution of its digital records to research institutions and development organizations. As part of a collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education, ACKU also posts staff members at universities in Kandahar, Nangrahar, Mazar, and Herat to facilitate online access to its collection by students at those institutions.
Reaching Isolated Readers
Through the ACKU Box Library Extension (ABLE) outreach program, ACKU provides books written in native languages to Afghans who have no access to a library because they live in remote areas. ABLE seeks to cultivate interest in reading among all Afghans, but concentrates primarily on reaching readers who are newly literate. The libraries ABLE establishes are based in either local high schools or community institutions, such as mosques, clinics, and shops in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. To date, ABLE has founded 211 high school libraries and 44 community libraries.
ABLE high school libraries feature bookshelves filled with a diverse selection of 500 books, while the community libraries are supplied with a specially fabricated, metal lending box that people can use to transport up to 250 volumes. A caretaker from the local area oversees each box library, and ABLE staff members conduct periodic visits to refresh each library’s mobile container with new titles. In this way, ABLE circulates over 220,500 books that vary broadly from dictionaries and computer usage guides to literary works and history texts.
ABLE obtains some of the books for its libraries from commercial vendors, but the program also commissions in-house publications produced by Afghan authors and illustrators. Intended to be approachable for inexperienced readers, all of the in-house books are written in plainspoken Dari or Pashto and printed in pocket-size volumes that never exceed more than 100 pages. ABLE selects the topics for its publications to meet the needs expressed by local communities. Among the 324 titles released by ABLE, many cover such practical concerns as basic healthcare, agricultural practices, disaster preparedness, and domestic skills.