MORE than 20 years ago Robert Donia, then a graduate student, visited Sarajevo for the first time and spent most of his time in the attractive but cramped old parliament building known as the Vijecnica.
Dr Donia, now a historian at Michigan University, still remembers the time he and new Bosnian friends explored the rich resources of knowledge in rare and ageing collections of books and periodicals in Bosnia's national and university lib-rary, located in the Vijecnica.
During the war in Bosnia, the entire library was burned and almost destroyed by Serbian nationalist forces besieging Sarajevo, who bombarded the building with incendiary shells in August 1992.
The University of Michigan working group on southeast European studies has recently completed a milestone project to help in the revival of the university library. The project, a bibliography of over 2,700 works held in Michigan's libraries on Bosnia and Herzegovina, was presented to university officials in Sarajevo by Dr Donia and his colleague, John Fine.
"Seeing the library in ruins was a profoundly saddening experience," Dr Donia said. "It will never be the same. But the collection itself can substantially be reconstituted with the aid of Bosnia's friends around the world.
"This bibliography is an effort to move that process along, and to give to Bosnians and their friends a tangible manifestation of the commitment at Michigan to see that the resources to explore Bosnia's rich past are preserved and once again made widely available to students and to scholars."
The need for a bibliography was first outlined by Enes Kujundzic, director of the library, during a visit to Michigan three years ago. He spoke then of plans to rebuild the collections after the war. In the meantime, he pointed to the value of developing comprehensive listings of Bosniaca holdings at libraries outside Bosnia that could serve as acquisitions tools for the restoration. Dr Kujundzic insisted on compiling a bibliography of Bosniaca on the model of Judaica - books published in or about Bosnia.
Bosniaca: A Bibliography of University of Michigan Library Holdings is a response to Dr Kujundzic's appeal. It was produced by Janet Crayne, an associate librarian in the Slavic division of Michigan's library, and Donna Parmelee, programme associate at Michigan's Center for Russian and East European Studies. Both volunteered their time for the project.
"The project's goal has been to develop a comprehensive list of University of Michigan library holdings that fit at least one of the criteria for Bosniaca: any document about Bosnia and/or Herzegovina or published on the historical territory of Bosnia and/or Herzegovina," says Dr Parmelee.
According to Ms Crayne, to retrieve as complete a body of information as possible, three overlapping search strategies were used.
"We had to find items about Bosnia and/or Herzegovina, then to retrieve items published in Bosnia and/or Herzegovina, and finally, we had to ensure identification of relevant language and literature items that were not identified using the previous two search strategies."
Kemal Bakarsic, assistant professor of library science at Sarajevo, who is preparing a comprehensive, computer-based list of more than 65,000 works published in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the modern era says: "The Michigan Bosniaca bibliography is the first to be presented to the national and university library. This bibliography is a model for establishing relations between the Sarajevo University library and others. We have just started working with the Congress Library in Washington."
Compared to better-known libraries, Sarajevo was not very big, with only about 70,000 different items.
"Nevertheless, it will take us between 20 to 30 years to reconstruct it. It was not just that the building was destroyed and books burned - even the catalogues disappeared. At the best, we can have reconstructed up to 80 per cent of the content of the library. The rest is lost forever."
In the process fears that a priceless magazine entitled Alborada, published in 1900-1 in Ladino, a variant of Hebrew, was lost forever were found to be misplaced. In Switzerland, Sarajevian librarians discovered a grandson of the publisher who still had copies.
Dr Donia said: "It was delightful to see responses to the bibliography in Sarajevo and in Tuzla, where we visited. Several people seized upon it and immediately began pouring through its pages, looking to see if Michigan's library holds their favourite work and often surprised that the library had somehow acquired some obscure Bosnian tome.
"I was struck by the commitment of faculty members and students at the university to resume their academic life, even without many of the resources they enjoyed before the war."
But Dr Kujundzic added a word of caution: "All this publicity is like a boomerang: everyone believes that we've already got more than enough. Hence, we are receiving far less help than promises, as if someone doesn't want to see Bosnia as culturally highly developed."