Straight from the headlines to the UL : the trajectory of current events from newspapers to books

Cover of C206.c.3512  (image from publisher)

Cover of C206.c.3512
(image from publisher)

On the occasion of the anniversary of the kidnapping of the monks of Tibhirine, it is useful to consider how events in the news are reflected in published works and in the library’s collections. It is an occasion to think about how the reaction to events such as the kidnapping—or, more recently, the attacks at the offices of Charlie Hebdo—are memorialised and understood. The Library’s collections in many ways reflect this, as we try to collect broadly around events such as these.

In January, we wrote about the attacks in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and how we were able to purchase and catalogue a copy of the so-called ‘survivor’s issue’ of that journal. We, like many other individuals and institutions, have subsequently also re-evaluated the books we have by those cartoonists who were killed, and have been buying some of their work that, in retrospect, belongs in the Library. As we wrote in January, it is stunning how quickly the world of publishing now moves—the issue at Arc.a.201.4 was published, purchased on our behalf, received in the UL, and put on the shelves in the Rare Books department within the course of a week (less than two weeks after the shooting). Within a month, books had already been published in response to the attacks: La BD est Charlie (published Feb. 5th), a collection of cartoonists’ responses to the attacks, chief amongst them. Presumably these will not be the last books published about the attacks, and as time passes, substantial works will appear that attempt to interpret and understand the context of the attack.

On March 26-27 1996, seven monks (all of French nationality) were kidnapped from their monastery in the Atlas mountains in Algeria. Their bodies were found several months later. They were held in captivity for two months, and the circumstance of their deaths remains a contentious issue to this day. The story was made into a film, Des hommes et des dieux, which won the Grand prix at the 2010 Cannes film festival.

Cambridge Libraries have a number of works relating to this the kidnapping and assassination of these monks: The earliest work in Cambridge dates from 1997 and is held in both the UL (104:7.c.95.50) and the Divinity Faculty Library (8 OLI):

  • How far to follow? : the martyrs of Atlas / Bernardo Olivera.

The following books are also available in the UL on the subject of this event:

  • The monks of Tibhirine : faith, love, and terror in Algeria / John W. Kise (2003) – C200.d.6116
  • En quête de vérité : le martyre des moines de Tibhirine / René Guitton (2011) – C205.c.9974
  • Le crime de Tibhirine : révélations sur les responsables / Jean-Baptiste Rivoire (2011) – C206.c.3512
  • Journal : Tibhirine 1993-1996 : le souffle du don / Frère Christophe (2012) – C203.d.2687
    (Christophe Lebreton is one of the monks who was killed in the attacks)

In addition, there are three copies of the film, in the catalogue under its English title Of gods and men, at the Clare, Churchill and St Catharine’s College libraries.

This list demonstrates the lasting impact that this event has had in France. In addition to books about the attack, a significant number of works written by the victims themselves have been published, including journals, poems and religious tracts in the years that followed the events. Books are still being published regularly in France about it, including many that do not naturally fit within our collections: the most recent book about the monks of Tibhirine in the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) is called Prier 15 jours avec frère Luc, moine et médecin à Tibhirine.

As with any subject, we need to examine each book not simply on its subject matter, but also in how relevant it is to the users of the Library. Interest in the events over time can be viewed by looking at the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, or very crudely, by viewing the mentions of the word Tibhirine in Google Books. It is interesting that not just the majority of books in the UL, but also in the BNF were published subsequent to the release of the film Des hommes et des dieux (it is unfortunate that the Google Ngram viewer only includes information up to 2008, before the release of the film). Presumably, this is a result of the fact that the film raised interest and awareness in the events—this is certainly the case among the librarians at the UL, who were unaware of the tragedy prior to the film’s showing at the Picturehouse.

As is often the case, following the Charlie Hebdo shootings librarians at the UL have re-evaluated our collections in order to determine if we were missing any books that we either should have bought upon their initial publication, or whether in light of new events the books have since become relevant for us.

Josh Hutchinson

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