PRESCOTT – In June, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott Campus shipped over 200 boxes of donated books overseas to Mosul, Iraq, in a volunteer effort to help replenish what was lost when ISIS ransacked the Mosul Central Library in February of 2015.
After the destruction of what was believed to be over 100,000 books and manuscripts, Iraqi newspapers, maps and collected works from the Ottoman period, a world-wide call for aid was heard by ERAU’s Honors Program and the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
“When the book drive began, I notified [our contacts] in Mosul that I was confident we could get a few hundred books,” said recent graduate of Global Security & Intelligence, James Gulliksen. “I had no clue Embry-Riddle and the surrounding Prescott community would garner up several thousand. Our final shipment was about 6,200 books in 10 different languages”
As a student of Global Security & Intelligence, Gulliksen had been monitoring the advance and decline of the Islamic State organization in Iraq and Syria until late 2016, when Iraqi forces, supported by the US-led coalition, began the liberation of Mosul from Islamic State control. Mosul Eye – a blog in Mosul devoted to reporting on life before and after Islamic State rule – suggested the idea of a book drive to its readers, inspiring Gulliksen to reach out to student leadership of the Honors Program and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society in hopes that they too would agree to support the library rebuilding efforts.
“The idea of providing a massive collection of books to a community that has had their right to learn violently removed is an idea that embodies all of the best in the ERAU Honors Program, the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and Embry-Riddle as a whole,” Gulliksen said. “In a community where civilians feel the scourge of violence, malnourishment, and torture, the notion of rebuilding a library is at the core of Phi Kappa Phi’s motto: ‘Let the Love of Learning Rule Humanity.’”
The library rebuild consists of both recovering what books could be found in the library wreckage, and retrieving books from around the world – including over four tons from Prescott.
The organization and management of a book drive of this scale led Gulliksen and his team to encounter the practical obstacle of how to store and ship over 6,000 books.
“The library’s staff, Undergraduate Research Institute (URI), and Dr. Kelly O’Brien in Study Abroad were all extremely gracious with their work space and allowed us to store books before they could be sent,” Gulliksen said. “Also, establishing the logistics of sending such a large shipment was a huge hurdle.”
Embry-Riddle Honor students, as well as students who are accepted into the Phi Kappa Phi national honor society, are encouraged to seek out volunteer opportunities which will put the students’ interests, education and world view toward giving aid to a cause. For Gulliksen, understanding the need and answering Mosul’s call was not just to supply their library with books; it was to help the liberated city heal its community.
“A library is more than only books,” said Gulliksen. “I think the research is clear that people become radicalized due to several underlying causes, including illiteracy, broken social relationships, and a lost sense of community. In a city like Mosul, a library is a tool to solve all of those problems.”
Information provided by Keaton Ziem with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.