The great library of the ancient world, in Alexandria, Egypt, burned in A.D. 48. Now its successor, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is to open this fall after 25 years in preparation. The goal is to help restore Alexandria--no longer the exotic place it was in the 1950s, when Lawrence Durrell wrote his famous Alexandria Quartet--to its former cultural glory. But it will have some interest for scientific research too.
After years of delays, library supporters are heartened by the presence of Ismail Serageldin, an Egyptian economist and city planner and former vice president of the World Bank, who took over this spring. Serageldin's international fund-raising wiles are expected to help bring the $210 million enterprise to completion. Indeed, he has pledged to devote the next decade to pilot the library to greatness. There's still a long way to go: The library has claimed a goal of 8 million books, but just 200,000 are so far in hand, including outdated investment guides and old copies of Ripley's Believe it or Not, according to The Washington Post.
Serageldin hopes to make the library an international center of expertise on scientific ethics. The international board of directors, which met for the first time this spring, features three scientists: Boston University geologist Farouk El Baz, Harvard biologist Stephen J. Gould, and Caltech chemist Ahmed Zewail.
El Baz says Serageldin is pushing to get the library on the cutting edge of communications technology. Also planned is a planetarium, calligraphy institute, a replica of Sweden's Nobel museum, and a conservation center for the restoration of ancient papyri.
An opening celebration is planned for October, when the Bibliotheca Alexandrina plans to leap onto the international stage by hosting a 3-day conference on Biotechnology and Sustainable Development. El Baz says the "real" opening--when the library is actually wired up and full of books--won't come until next April.