This weekend I had a disturbing conversation with Will Wakeling, the Associate Dean for Collections & Tech Services, the Northeastern University Libraries, about a recent trip he took to the mid-East. Simmons, Harvard, and UCLA received an National Endowment for the Humanities grant to sponsor a conference to help 32 Iraqi library faculty rebuild their institutions. Probably for security reasons, the meeting was NOT held in Iraq, but in the United Arab Emirates.
Will reported that the situation in the Iraqi libraries is beyond bleak. Security is a grave concern, as you might imagine. They are lucky to have an hour of electricity a day. The collections have been decimated, the computers looted. A society with a strong tradition of learning and reading is going without the tools to educate its people.
If I understood him correctly, The United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain where the conference took place has brand new state of the art library, doubly underscoring the vast differences in resources between the two locations
Some donation programs that are trying to address the problems of lack of books in Iraq:
http://www.sabre.org/: The AAUP website reports Sabre is planning a program in Iraq, although the Sabre website doesn't mention it.
An important footnote about Sabre is that they are committed to supporting indigenous publishing. The deleterious effect of donated books on local publishing markets is a common complaint about book donation programs.