Help Share the Manuscripts of Timbuktu with the World

by Naomi House, MLIS

Help Share the Manuscripts of Timbuktu with the World

In 2013, over 1,000 donors contributed to help save this priceless heritage from destruction. Now you can help share it with the world. has six partners across Africa, but the one most librarians and archivists might be interested in is the cataloguing efforts for the Timbuktu manuscripts in Mali.

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In 2012, under threat from fundamentalist rebels, a team of archivists, librarians, and couriers evacuated an irreplaceable trove of manuscripts from Timbuktu at great personal risk [read more].

The story didn’t end there. In 2013, 1,257 funders chipped in on Indiegogo to save and preserve the libraries from the damp of their new environment in exile. Now we’re ready to help with the next step: cataloguing these ancient manuscripts so that they can be shared with the world.

We need $100,000 US in pledges to launch this project. Every contribution helps.

WHY cataloguing, AND WHY NOW?
T160K Timbuktu preservation training_tamasheq_craftsmen_in_book_and_paper_conservationWith the preservation effort successfully launched, the world has turned its eyes to other matters. But until these priceless libraries are cataloged, the knowledge they contain cannot be used. Our goal is to fund the cataloguing of this body of work–over 400,000 manuscripts in total–so that they can be shared with the world.

The libraries of Timbuktu have been handed down and preserved for generations.

There has never been a better time to undertake this effort. For the first time in history, these libraries are now gathered in one place under the care of trained archivists. This is an unprecedented opportunity, not just for scholars, but for the world.

This project is near to our heart, because in 2013, T160k was originally formed in the rescue of these manuscripts from Timbuktu. We ran a successful Indiegogo campaign, Timbuktu: Libraries in Exile, which helped raise the funds urgently needed to preserve these treasures from damp and mildew.

The corpus of Timbuktu comprises over 400,000 manuscripts. To hire and train catalogers, equip them with mobile devices, and put the technology infrastructure in place will cost about $5 per manuscript, a total investment of $2 million dollars. This is a huge number, but with many people making just a small contribution each, we can do it. And even with only part of the funding, we can make a huge amount of progress. When we have pledged support of $100,000 for the first year of work, we can launch this project.
The manuscripts cover every topic from science and math to love poetry, legal judgments, and details of daily life.

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Every $5 contributed to this campaign provides funds to catalog one manuscript, including setup, training, tech support, and staff. Funds collected from this campaign will be delivered to The Mamma Haidera Commemorative Library, the custodian of the manuscripts in Mali, to carry out the following activities:

  • Training and paying local workers to carry out the cataloguing effort in accordance with standards and best practices for Arabic manuscripts
  • Training and paying quality control experts to oversee the cataloguing effort
  • Purchasing, deploying, and maintaining mobile devices such as iPads for cataloguing workers
  • Technical assistance, setup, and development, including cataloguing database, cataloguing software, and redundant cloud backup
  • Project management and administration of cataloguing effort
  • Training local staff to carry out preservation and cataloguing is one the top priorities of the library.

It is very important to us that the manuscripts remain in their home country and that funds spent develop local talent and sustainable capacity in Mali.



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Everyone who supports the campaign will have their name recorded in the published volumes of the manuscript catalog–a declaration to the world of your valuable contribution to the work.  Even $5 helps!

Supporters who pledge $15 or more per month will specially named in each quarterly electronic published volume of the catalog, alongside the manuscripts they helped fund.

Supporters who pledge $30 or more per month are entitled to a personal dedication or small photograph on the preservation media where the manuscripts are stored. They will join the people from our Indiegogo campaign whose dedications are already preserved as part of this historic effort.

Supporters who can pledge $100 or more per month will receive a copy of the annual physical catalog inscribed with a personal message of thanks.

Each one-time pledge of $350 pays for the training and starting salary for one cataloger. You will receive a personal letter from the cataloger whom you funded, a basis for an ongoing relationship with the project and people involved.

Each one-time pledge of $500 pays for acquisition, deployment, and maintenance of one mobile device for cataloguing. We will inscribe the device you funded with a short personal message and a personal letter of thanks from the cataloguing staff.

For a one-time pledge of $1000, we are able to invite you to visit Mali in person, see the cataloguing site, meet the project staff, and participate in cataloguing and preservation activities. Sorry, we cannot provide travel or accommodation.



Who is running this project? T160k is undertaking this crowdfunding campaign in partnership with the Mamma Haidera Commemorative Library, the organization in Mali who is the custodian of the manuscripts. T160k is responsible for the crowdfunding campaign and providing verification that funds are being used for the cataloging project. The Mamma Haidera Commemorative Library is responsible for the cataloging effort itself.

If you need $100,000 to launch this project, when will my contributions be collected. We can launch this project once we have $100,000 pledged for the first year of operations. Even a small donation can count for a lot, measured over a year. We won’t start collecting funds until this much has been pledged.

Have the manuscripts been removed from Mali? The manuscripts currently reside in Mali, where they have resided for 700 or more years, and we believe they should remain there. Everything possible will be done to ensure this.

Are there efforts to digitize the manuscripts? Efforts to digitize the manuscripts have been ongoing, but were interrupted by the violent uprising of 2012. The manuscripts are composed of extremely fragile papers and unstable ferrous inks which literally burn when exposed to traditional “hot light” scanning processes. A significant number of manuscripts have already been scanned using cold circuit photography. Complete digitizing of the manuscripts is one of our long-term dreams. Cataloging will help us move in that direction. UPDATE: There has been some media coverage that Google is interesting in assisting in digitizing efforts for the Timbuktu libraries. We have no details to announce on this yet, but it is one more reason to speed the cataloging of the manuscripts.

For more information about T160k and our crowdfunding approach, see the T160k FAQ.

Special note, I am very much involved and one of the co-founders of T160K.


NaomiHouseT160Kpreviously published 12/2/14

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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