Of the 700,000 manuscripts in Timbuktu and northern Mali most are endangered and the need for constructive action is urgent. The texts in private collections as well as public libraries need to be preserved, catalogued, and studied. The manuscripts cover an array of sciences such as mathematics, chemistry, optics, physics, astronomy, medicine, as well as treaties on tolerance, conflict resolution, Islamic sciences, history, geography, government legislation, jurisprudence etc. Many of these rare works are more than 400 years old.
In recent years some have fallen into the hands of non-Malian individuals who have purchased these valuable manuscripts from impoverished Tamashek or Songhay in urban centers, nomadic camps, as well as rural villages. In many cases the manuscripts, having been handed down through the family over the centuries, and are sold just to meet subsistence needs.
The manuscripts are also threatened by poverty in that the limited resources that reach the north tend to be applied to meet basic subsistence needs. Manuscripts related projects must be framed in the current, local context so that manuscripts preservation, revival of the legacy and local economic development are complementary endeavors.
Poverty was everywhere. There are no books in schools. The children were wearing tattered clothes and no shoes. At school, they sit in the sand under a hut with no electricity, no desks, no chairs, a tiny stump of pencil and a two-leaf notebook - report by the Islamic American Relief Agency sent to Mali to investigate the level of poverty in Timbuktu.