By Ryder Kouba
One of the few drawbacks to working in Egypt is the lack of a local archivist community; however, as a faculty member at the American University in Cairo I am a member of the American International Consortium of Academic Libraries (AMICAL), which has member institutions ranging from Paris to Iraq. The 2015 annual conference was held in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria at the American University of Bulgaria last month, which I had the pleasure of attending. As a member of the Digital Initiatives Committee, I helped present a poster showing the results of survey on the state of digital collections/repositories in AMICAL institutions, with a particular focus on incorporating digital content into curricula. We also hope to increase collaboration with faculty, and between AMICAL institutions. Overall, the conference was a resounding success; the presentations were well done, and I had the opportunity to meet colleagues from around the world. The poster generated a lot of interesting discussion, and the committee is looking forward to moving ahead with supporting digital collections with AMICAL members.
The conference also provided the opportunity to travel for a few days in Bulgaria (and avoid a 115 degree/sandstorm day in Cairo), a country which I knew very little about. AMICAL put together an excellent trip to the Rila Monastery, which was gorgeous. We were also treated to a presentation by the monastery’s librarian, who discussed the history of the library, the history of books in Bulgaria, and showed us some rare books from four to five hundred years ago.
After the conference a friend and I traveled to Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s lovely and historic second city. Besides being home to several well-preserved Roman ruins, Plovdiv had a museum dedicated to the history of printing in Bulgaria, which contained numerous examples of books, newspapers, and a printing press from the 19th century and the Bulgarian National Revival. Our last stop was the capital, Sofia. Sofia has an eclectic mix of art nouveau and Communist-era architecture, as well as a gigantic green belt and of course the spectacular Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. We also visited the SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library (Cyril and Methodius created the oldest Slavic alphabet). Library staff were kind enough to give us a tour of an exhibit on the history of books in Bulgaria, and while it would have been great to explore the library and archive, the staff was very generous to show us the exhibit. The last library visit was to the central library of Sofia University. The reading room was lovely and all instructions look cooler in Cyrillic.
It was a pleasure visiting Bulgaria, trying to decipher Cyrillic provided endless amusement (to me, my friend got a bit tired of me sounding out every sign), the food was great, and the trip was easy on the wallet. If anyone is taking a trip to the Balkans/southern Europe I would definitely recommend spending a few days in Bulgaria.