Open Journal Systems

A Book Buyer in Algeria A Book Buyer in Algeria

floral device Abstract

Relates the daily events in the author’s trip to Algeria to purchase books for the University of Texas Library. There were fewer obstacles to overcome in Algeria, and a better success rate in locating appropriate publications. Both articles offer readers in advanced countries a vivid picture of publishing and bookselling infrastructure in the Third World.

This account is a continuation of the narrative presented in Third World Libraries volume 2, number 1 (Fall 1991), at http://ojsserv.dom.edu/ojs/index.php/worldlib/article/view/231/187, which covered Mr. Sepehri’s visit to Tunisia. — Ed.

floral device Friday, 22 June 1990

The flight from Tunis to Algiers was about one hour. Airport passport and customs checking took some time because we had to go through a foreign currency declaration. The information desk at the airport was already closed. A few taxi drivers were trying to find customers. I gave them the name of Michelet Hotel, which had been recommended to me and reserved by a faculty member from our Government Department two weeks earlier, but none of the taxi drivers had heard of such a hotel. Finally, after much inquiry and consultation, one taxi driver was ready to take me there. Algiers’s Houari Boumedienne Airport is quite a distance from downtown, but they are linked by a well–maintained freeway.

Entering downtown from the harbor area, the driver made several turns and finally stopped in a narrow, dead–end back alley. He pointed to a building with a sign that was not easily visible. As I entered through the front door, I saw a small reception desk and two couches, across from which three hotel guests were having a conversation. After I filled out a hotel registration form, the receptionist gave me a key to the sixth floor and told me to climb two flights of stairs, where I would find an elevator. I carried my suitcase to the second floor. There were no lights in the hallway or the elevator, but I managed to land on the sixth floor and find my room.

As I turned on the light and touched the woolen blanket on the bed, a big spider jumped off the side. I set my suitcase down and pulled aside the white curtain to the bathroom to wash the dust and sweat off my face, whereupon I discovered that there was no running water in the bathroom, nor was there a telephone in the room to call and find out about the situation. I walked down to the reception desk and saw the faculty member who had reserved my room for me sitting and reading a book. I thanked him for making this reservation for me but explained that since I had only four days in Algeria and had to contact several people, it was not possible for me to do business without a telephone. We checked two other hotels in the neighborhood, but they had no vacancies. When we returned to our hotel, it was about 10:00 p.m.

After he went to his room, I asked the receptionist to dial the home phone number for Ms. Nadia Ghaffar, the Library of Congress representative and the USIS librarian in Algiers. Fortunately, she was at home. When I described my hotel situation, she said that upon receiving a cable from the LC Office, she had made a reservation for me at El–Aurassi Hotel and that I could take a taxi and go there. I carried my suitcase down, took a taxi, and went to the hotel Ms. Ghaffar had reserved for me. This hotel was quite a contrast to the Michelet Hotel. I was led through a long hallway on the fourth floor to my suite, which had a balcony overlooking the sea, two bathrooms, and running water with maximum pressure. I fell into a very deep sleep that night.

floral device Saturday, 23 June 1990

Only the next morning did I realize that this was the biggest and the most expensive hotel in Algiers (about $100 per night). After taking my breakfast at 7:30 a.m., I mapped out my strategies and went to the Office des Publications Universitaires (OPU), Ministère de I’Enseignement et de la Recherche Scientifique (Diwan al–Matbu’at al–Jami’iyah), and made an initial selection of 50 titles, including five titles in French that were selected by Dr. Clement Henry the day before. They promised to invoice them by 2:30 p.m., at which time I had an appointment with Ms. Ghaffar at USIS, 8 Rue All Messaoud, Hydra. I spent the rest of the morning reconnoitering the downtown area and discovered, with some satisfaction, that almost all of the bookstores were on the Didouce–Mourad street, which is the busiest street in Algiers.

I went back to OPU to pick up the books at 1:45 p.m. There was an error in the invoice, and by the time they corrected it, it was 2:25 p.m. I took the books to the street corner to find a taxi and found an empty one in half an hour. When I arrived at USIS at 3:15 p.m., after some difficulty finding the address, Ms. Nadia Ghaffar introduced me to Mrs. Yolande Veron–Sullivan, the USIS Director, who was very receptive and offered their help. I had learned by this time how to describe my mission. Ms. Ghaffar then led me to her library and provided me with some information about the bookstores and research institutions that I should visit. These were basically the ones I had targeted from the lists of information given to me in Cairo. Then she drove me downtown to show me the major bookstores, most of which were already closed.

floral device Sunday, 24 June 1990

The hotel bill was getting bigger quickly, and so I decided to wind up my business in Algiers earlier than originally planned. I went to the Royal Maroc Airlines on Sunday morning and changed my reservation to Casablanca from 28 June 28 to 25 June. Next, I went to the bank and changed traveler’s checks into Algerian dinars to continue purchasing books. There are five major bookstores on Didouche–Mourad that pretty much cover the commercial publishing in Algeria. Maktabat ibn Khaldun was closed. I collected most of the commercial titles from Maktabat al–Ghazzali and Maktabat al–Thaqafiyah wa–al–’Ilmiyah. In these stores, there were even books published by OPU that I had not seen on their shelves the previous day.

While these booksellers were busy preparing invoices, I went to the National Institute of Statistics, half a block from Didouce–Mourad, where they would not allow me to browse through their publications, but they handed me a catalog in French to select from. Most of my selections were out of stock, and my only important acquisition there was the Algerian Five–Year Development Plan for the years 1985–1989, which was given to me free of charge.

I went back to the bookstores, collected my books, and took them out in two big cartons to deliver to USIS. It was around 12:30, and, as usual, it was not easy for me to find an empty taxi, and the few that passed by were scared off by the sight of the book boxes. Finally, taking advantage of the bumper–to–bumper traffic, I opened an empty taxi door and forced myself in. The driver reluctantly consented. He came out and put the boxes in the trunk, and we headed toward USIS in Hydra. By the time I had delivered those boxes and returned to Didouche–Mourad, it was 2:30 p.m.

I went to see Dr. Clement Henry at his hotel, and we went out to OPU to do some more browsing in case we had missed some good publications before. We collected a few more there. Then we went to Librairie Papeterie at 3 Rue Abdelkarim El–Khettabi, where we picked up some more French titles. And, finally, I purchased a good number from Enterprise Nationale du Livre (al–Mu’assasah al–Wataniyah lil–Kitab) at 23 Nahj al–’Arabi ibn Mahdi and delivered all to USIS, the last batch. In all, I had collected some 200 pieces from Algeria, which may well represent the total number of scholarly books published in Algeria per annum.

floral device Monday, 25 June 1990

The next morning, I took a taxi from Hotel El–Aurassi to go to the airport. As soon as I got in, the driver shook his head, telling me that the regular route to the airport was too congested and that he had to take me by a roundabout way that would cost twice as much. I told him that I was not in a hurry and that we had enough time to try the route everyone else was taking. After some argument, I realized that if I got out of this taxi, the next driver (if I found a taxi easily) might ask for the same or even more. So I offered to pay an extra 50 J.D. or $6.00, and he reluctantly agreed.

The airport formalities were as detailed on the way out as they were at my arrival. At the departure lounge, I found out that our 10:00 a.m. flight had been delayed. The flight to Casablanca had been posted on the board for 11:00 a.m. at Gate 2, right under the flight to Frankfurt at 10:45. The Frankfurt passengers had already cleared, but I did not see any signs of preparation for Casablanca at that gate. I rushed to the information desk, but it was unattended. In frustration, I asked an airport employee with a badge whether he knew anything about the Casablanca flight delay. He pointed to upstairs, and he said “Gate 9 boarding.” I ran up the stairs and saw a flight attendant for Royal Maroc Airlines standing at the top of the stairs leading passengers to a bus parked down on the other side. It was quite a relief that I had not missed my plane, which would have meant three more days in Algiers before taking the next Royal Maroc Airlines flight to Morocco.

About the Author

Abazar Sepehri is Middle Eastern Studies Librarian, University of Texas at Austin. He has an M.L.S. from Tehran University and an Advanced Certificate from the University of Pittsburgh. His articles and reviews have appeared in MELA Notes, Unesco Bulletin for Libraries, Journal of Library History, and other journals. Mr. Sepehri has been President of the Middle East Librarians Association. The first installment of his book buying journal was published in Third World Libraries, volume 2, number 1 (Fall 1991), at http://ojsserv.dom.edu/ojs/index.php/worldlib/article/view/231/187.


©1992 Abazar Sepehri



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