The importance of the effort of preserving the Timbuktu manuscripts and its potential impact upon the fields of African Studies and African History cannot be over-emphasised. Colonial historiography has always held that Africa had few written languages and as such, the only reliable sources of knowledge on the pre-colonial period were archaeology and oral history. However, even these sources were rather tenuous, since archaeological findings date back to hundreds of thousands of years and oral history may only be able to stretch back about a hundred years.
Crucial to the preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts are the libraries that have been established in the town. The first official manuscript library to be founded was the Ahmed Baba Institute, opened in 1973 under its former name, Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Ahmed Baba (CEDRAB). From the 1990s, private libraries began to be established in Timbuktu. Today, there are 21 such libraries and five of these are easily accessible by the public.
While all libraries act as secure repositories for these manuscripts, some are currently more actively involved in preservation and digitisation efforts than others. In certain libraries, it is possible to watch how manuscript paper is fortified to last longer and how researchers capture images of the manuscripts, creating a digital archive. The difference between those libraries involved in such activities and others that are not, is mainly their access to training and resources.
Number of manuscripts in libraries accessible by the public
|Library||Opened||No. of Mss.|
|Ahmed Baba Institute (IHERI-AB)||1973||30000|