I recently received an interesting email, not the usual spam from the widow of the last military dictator of Nigeria seeking a bank account to deposit here husband’s stolen millions, nor an enlargement claim for a part of my anatomy. No, this was a special announcement from Gerlach Books in Berlin. As you read the announcement, you can imagine my surprise to be on this list with a mere professor’s salary.

Today we would like to draw your attention to the largest scholarly library we have offered as an entity ever.

*** Hans Daiber’s Scholarly Library on Islamic Thought & Philosophy – 12,500 items ***

Each item in this library is listed in the three volume Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy edited by Hans Daiber and published by Brill as part of HdO – Handbuch der Orientalistik.

Hans Daiber’s library includes all known publications in western and non-western languages from the 15th century to the present. The total number of items is approximately 12,500 primary and secondary sources.

Today the library itself is put up for sale.
The total price of the library is 775,000.00 EUR (seven hundred and seventy five thousand Euros) plus shipping.

Apart from the hubris (“all known publications… from the 15th century to the present”), I can only imagine the size in shittim wood cubits of this Noachian bibliographic ark. But let’s start with the price. As I calculate it, 775,000 EURO translates into $1,111,931. This amount would almost buy a library building (a modest one, I know). If indeed there are 12,500 books (give or take a few for rounding off purposes), this comes to about $89 per book. I realize that some books may be worth far more, but surely some would be worth far less and quite a few are probably available free on line in pdf as they would be out of copyright. Then I note that shipping is extra. Amazon gives me free shipping over $25, so this seems quite unfair. Perhaps Gerlach would offer the book collection on Amazon and thus make it more affordable for us living outside Germany.

The idea that one individual, obviously not an academic pauper, would or could amass so many books in so many languages (whatever they are) on a single topic is a bit overwhelming. Who said “Orientalism” is dead? This surely surpasses the accumulated desiderata of de Sacy or even Bernard Lewis (I cannot vouch for the latter). But I am reminded of a comment a student once made while surveying the far more finite number of books on the shelves of my university office: “Professor, have you read all these books?” “Of course not,” I answered or should have answered, “I mainly use them to hold up the wall.” But let’s assume I could afford to buy the collection and have it shipped here. I would need to buy a warehouse just to house them. If I wanted to donate them to a university library, I can only imagine the evil look the library dean would give me.

But then I fear that this collection is in danger, no matter where it ends up. First, paper tends to wear out even if untouched and especially if stretching back a few centuries. But second, there is the dreaded bibliolatric disease called Technodamnia digitalis, in which the words and illustrations of any book or manuscript can simply be digitalized and made available for anyone. This disease has a positive side (reducing the space needed by libraries for hard copies), but also makes books only eye candy and no longer things to behold and belove as beloved objects in and of themselves.

But I have a suggestion for Gerlach Books and Herr Daiber. Given the fragility of the current Arab Spring, why not donate the entire collection to the newly renovated library at Alexandria in Egypt? Until some iconoclastic conqueror of the future comes along and pulls a Fahrenheit 451, it may be the safest place around. If Ibn Sina were still around, I am sure he would like this idea, since his beloved Andalusia is currently having a Euro crisis and Egypt has nowhere to go but up.

Daniel Martin Varisco