A review of the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection, University of Nebraska (Omaha, Nebraska, United States).
The Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection (APAC), housed at the Criss Library at the University of Nebraska’s Omaha campus, is the largest archive of Afghanistan-related materials in the United States. The archive was established when the University of Nebraska inherited a private collection of around a thousand works in 1974, and it has expanded its holdings since. It now boasts more than 20,000 titles in its collection, many of which are unavailable in any other library in North America or Europe. I visited the archive briefly in June 2014 for pre-dissertation research on Persianate literary culture in the early twentieth century, making use of some of the rare Afghan literary journals available there.
The majority of the archive’s holdings are nineteenth and twentieth century English-language works, but there are also thousands of materials in Persian and Pashto, as well as some in Urdu, Arabic, Turkish, Uzbek, Baluchi, and others, along with most major European languages. The holdings include printed books, unpublished manuscripts, newspapers, journals, photographs, oral history recordings, microfilm, and many other formats. I occasionally encountered books or journals with handwritten notes on them, presumably from their previous owner – some in Persian, some in English – which could make for an interesting study of reading practices, if one were inclined to pursue the issue. One of the rarest items in the collection is an illuminated manuscript of ‘Abd al-Rahman Jami’s Haft Awrang; there is also a good amount of Jami-related materials from Jami’s 500th birthday anniversary celebrations held in Kabul in 1964.
Visitors should contact the curator, Dr. Shaista Wahab, in order to arrange a visit. Fluent in English and Persian, she is very knowledgeable about the collection and can be of help in finding relevant materials as well as in making sure that your scheduled visit does not coincide with holidays when the library might be closed. Some of the materials have been digitized and are available online at the University of Nebraska DigitalCommons. Though the APAC’s holdings are searchable on Worldcat, it does not loan any materials out via Inter-Library Loan. Nevertheless, it is also worth checking Worldcat before visiting to see if any of the texts you are interested in are held at other libraries and might be accessible via ILL; that way you can focus your time on those items which are unique to the APAC. Visitors should also note that while photographing items is freely allowed, photocopying or scanning is limited to those items which are easily replaceable; in other words, most likely not the items you would travel to the archive to access. Therefore, bringing a camera (or decent camera phone) is crucial.
For materials that are permissible to copy or scan, there are photocopy machines which charge 7¢ per page for black-and-white copies, or 12¢ for double-sided copies. The machines require a copy card, which can be purchased from kiosks in the library. There is a single scanner in the library just outside the archive, but it is too small to comfortably scan most books. Microfilm is free to view and scan, and costs 5¢ per page for black-and-white printing and 30¢ for color.
There exist two bibliographies of the APAC’s holdings: one for the Pashto and Dari [Persian] titles, from 1995, and one for titles in English and European languages, from 2000. These are available online, or in hard copy at the archive itself. Most materials can simply be requested on the spot if necessary, and are provided fairly quickly, though it is better to provide Dr. Wahab with a list of requested material in advance if possible. Aside from making an initial appointment, no registration was required.
Work space in the archive is rather small, with a table and a few desks for viewing materials, though it was comfortable enough as I seemed to be the only researcher visiting at the time. It is quiet and air conditioned inside and outlets for charging devices are accessible. The staff are quite friendly and helpful. No food or drink is allowed inside the archive. Immediately outside are bathrooms, water fountains, microwaves, and an array of vending machines selling hot and cold coffee, sodas, cup-of-noodles, and other snacks. There are also vending machines for office supplies (pens, paper, and the like). The vending machines require small change or library copy cards. Additionally, there is a small café inside the library (on the floor above the archive) that has drinks and sandwiches, and a food court in the student center just a few minutes’ walk from the library.
Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection
University of Nebraska at Omaha Library
6001 Dodge Street
Omaha, NE 68182-0237
Open 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM Monday to Friday except when Criss Library is closed
Phone: (402) 554-2404
Fax: (402) 554-3215
Digital collections: http://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/paul/ and http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/afghanuno/
Department of Comparative Literature
University of California, Irvine
Image: Photo of Archives entrance by Author.
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