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  • Melcom International

    The European Association of Middle East Librarians

    Contact adresses:


    Frédéric Bauden
    Université de Liège
    Place du XX Aout Bat. A 8
    B-4000 Liège
    Fax: (32) 4/366.56.55
    e-mail :


    Nathalie Rodriguez
    Université Paris III, Sorbonne Nouvelle
    Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire des Langues Orientales
    4, Rue de Lille
    F-75007 Paris Cedex 07
    Fax: 331
    Web site:

    Melcom International : a short survey

    Melcom is the acronym of Middle East Librarian Committee. In its earliest form it was founded in the UK, well before 1979. Founding president of Melcom is Derek Hopwood, who kept the presidency till 1990, when he was succeeded by Jan Just Witkam, who held the presidency till 1998. International contacts led to a joint conference with French colleagues in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1979, the first of many. The following year the venue was in Oxford. In 1981 the conference was held in West Berlin, hosted by the Staatsbibliothek, in its new building. After that third conference is was clear that organizing a yearly conference was useful and feasible. The advantages are evident: Melcom provided an international exchange of ideas on librarianship and book research in a friendly and professional environment, combined with informal activities and scholarly tourism.

    After the Berlin conference of 1981 the venues have been in Paris (Société Asiatique, 1982), Cambridge (1983), Leiden (1984), Dublin (1985), Madrid (1986), Hammamet (1987), Paris (Institut du Monde Arabe, 1988), Durham (1989), Istanbul (1990), Rabat (1992), Birmingham (1993), Kopenhagen (1994), Leiden (1995), Cairo (1996), London (1997) and Sofia (1998). Programs of some recent Melcom conferences are reproduced on our website.

    The audience of the yearly international conference would, roughly speaking, consist of three categories of librarians: Melcoms hard core of friends and colleagues, the incidental visitors and the local librarians. Time and again this has proved to be a profitable mix. For the local librarians of several countries, the Melcom conference would be the first time that they were together and that the joint presentation of a national effort was expected of them. Long-time feuds tended to be forgotten and not seldom the coming of Melcom to a country would have the effect of a higher level of co-operation between colleagues, long after the participants of the conference had returned to their homes. Within the participants several groups can be discerned, from documentalists to scholarly researchers, from small-institute librarians working on part-time basis or even entirely as volunteers, to tenured heads of Oriental departments in the main national or university libraries. Booksellers have, in modest numbers, visited Melcoms conferences, and have shared their opinions on the book profession with their customers. In addition, the conferences have been visited by picturesque and gifted amateurs, sometimes dedicated to a mission of their own. As long as their focus was on Middle Eastern books, they have been welcomed and given attention. For the international conferences the local organizer has always been the key figure. Success or failure, the well-being of the participants, the organization of excursions and dinners, the arrangement of the program, it all depended of their labour of love.

    Melcom International has, from 1988 onwards, evolved from Melcom UK. The scope of Melcoms activities had at that time become so diversified that it seemed sensible to bring the international conferences under a different organization. In the meantime, Melcom UK has continued its activities which focus on developments in Middle East librarianship within the UK. From 1993 onwards Melcom International has its own Constitution, which provides the organization with a legal framework. Sketchy as it may seem, it reflects the open structure of Melcom International. Yet, this document only shows part of the picture. Melcom International is in fact made by its members. They carry the activities, by their coming to the annual meeting, often at their own expense, and it is they who keep Melcom International alive by their enthousiasm. The relatively small scale on which Melcom International operates is another guarantee for its ongoing success.

    December 1998.
    Jan Just Witkam
    Curator of Oriental Collections, Leiden University Library, Leiden, the Netherlands

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