Inspiration in UCLA’s Powell Library

Powell 1

I found myself walking up the steps of Powell Library eager to find the table where I used to study as an undergraduate 35 years ago. Just like my undergraduate self who had to set reading goals (one term I had 1000 pages of reading to do each week), on this day I had given myself a lofty goal. If I managed to write my daily goal of 1,000 words, I was going to take the rest of the day off to play! The only thing was I had limited time: 90 minutes before I met Natalie for a walk and then lunch with a friend. Maybe 500 words was more reasonable.

I joined the group of students on the front steps who were waiting for the doors of the library to open. The bells in the clock tower began to ring and just before the ninth bell struck, an arm pushed the double doors open.

I walked up the stairs to the main floor. I walked toward the reading room.

Powell 2

I could see Royce Hall through the windows. I found my table.

Powell 3

But before sitting down, a book caught my attention. I opened it and began reading.

Alia 2

It was an amazing book. It told the story — in vivid pictures and words —  about a woman, Alia, who was the Chief Librarian of Basra Central Library in Iraq when war broke out.  She knew too well what could happen to the library. She had read about the Mongol invasion 800 years earlier, which had resulted in the destruction by fire of the Baghdad library. She tried to warn government officials that they needed to move the books in the Basra Library before the same thing happened. They did not listen. Finally, she decided it was up to her to save the books. At first, she worked by herself carrying books to her car and then her apartment. Then her husband helps. Within a few days, their apartment is filled from floor to ceiling with books until not another volume can fit. Then her friend, the owner of a restaurant next to the library, pitches in. Word goes out.  More arms carry books to the restaurant. In less than a week, Alia’s worst fear comes true. The library is burned. Books burn. But Alia and her helpers managed to save 30,000 books. This is an amazing story to read in a library.

I look up at the ceiling of UCLA’s beautiful Powell Library.

Powell ceiling

I am inspired.  So inspired that I wrote 1,000 words in about 73 minutes.

Note from Mark Alan Stamaty’s Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq: The story of the burning of the great Baghdad library, which made such an impression on Alia as a child, occurred during the Mongol invasion of 1258 CE. In one week, Mongol leader Hulagu Khan ravaged almost all of the city’s thirty-six public libraries. Legend has it that so many books were thrown into the Tigris River that the water ran blue from their ink.



  • Carolyn Goodart

    That is an amazing story! I hadn’t even thought of there being libraries in Iraq! But I do have many happy memories of the Powell Library.

  • Andy McEwan

    Hello, Pamela,
    How interesting that after reading this inspirational story about the library in Basra you should look up at the Powell Library ceiling, which is so clearly influenced by Islamic geometric art. There’s maybe the germ of another story in there.

    • TwointheMiddle

      Hello Andy 🙂 Bill wondered if I had noticed the same thing. Alas, I did not! At least not at that moment. Thank you for pointing it out. Amazing how the magic of space and time was also connected via architecture. It is like magic when it happens. — Pamela

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