Meet Your Board: An Interview with Mary-Jane Deeb

Mary-Jane Deeb, Library of Congress, was elected to the Board of Directors in May 2015. You can find our interview with Mary-Jane Deeb below.

How and why did you initially become involved in the ASA?

My original research work was on Libya in North Africa. Together with my husband, we wrote a book on Libya Since the Revolution: Aspects of Social and Political Development, a book that was among the earliest published on Libya under Qaddafi. Thanks to that book I was accepted to do my doctoral work in the African Studies Program at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University, under Professor William Zartman.

Because SAIS includes North Africa in its African Studies program and not, like other graduate schools, in their Middle Eastern Studies departments, I became one of the only students at that time to have focused on two regions for my doctorate: Africa and the Middle East. I took courses in both regions, took my comps in both African and Middle Eastern Studies, and became member of both the African Studies Association and the Middle East Studies Association.

Why did you choose to become involved in the board?

I was an academic for more than a decade, after my doctorate, teaching courses in Comparative Politics and International Development at the American University in Washington. Both fields included teaching about Africa and the Middle East. In 1998, I was hired in the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, in the Near East Section, and eventually thanks to my professional training in both regions, I was selected to become Chief of the Division when the previous chief retired. My work as Chief provided me with numerous opportunities to meet African scholars, dignitaries, and professional in the field of African Studies. Among them was Toyin Falola, then President of ASA, and the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair and Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas in Austin who also served on the board of the Scholars’ Council of the Kluge Center here at the Library of Congress. He invited me to run for the board of the ASA, and said that it was important that someone whose scholarly research had focused primarily on North Africa become member of the ASA board. I agreed because I always felt that the five countries of North Africa, namely, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, had all been founding members of the OAU, considered themselves both Arab and African, and needed to find their place in African professional associations in America.  So I ran for office and was elected to the board in 2015.

You are Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress – how do the ASA and the Library of Congress relate to each other?

The Library of Congress is, de facto, the United States’ national library. It is also the biggest Library in the world, in the sense that it holds the most books, and has the most important international collection of materials in foreign languages. Our Africana collections are vast, and in multi formats, and are accessible to all those who hold a Library research card including not only American scholars and researchers, but also foreign researchers and the general public. We have six Field Offices around the world, and the one located in Nairobi purchases and catalogs acquisitions from Africa. Those offices acquire materials not only for the Library of Congress, but also for numerous universities around the country. So Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown, and many, many more institutions are all partners who purchase their hard-to-acquire materials from the region, via the Library of Congress. In short, the Library serves all the members of the ASA, not only by making its collections available to them at the Library, online, and otherwise, but also by purchasing materials for the libraries of their own universities, which otherwise would not be available to them.

How can ASA members become more involved with the Library of Congress, and what types of resources are available for members?

The best way for ASA members to become involved with the Library of Congress is to use its resources. For those who live in the Greater Washington area this is easy – they just need to come to the Library and we will assist them with getting their (free) research card which is valid for two years and can be renewed indefinitely, and then our Africa specialists will guide them in their research. Another way is for ASA members, wherever they happen to be located, to access the Library’s website and search the catalogs at https://www.loc.gov/. This is the best place to start as the Africana collections are available in many different reading rooms throughout the Library including: the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room (AMED), Rare Books, Geography and Map Division, the Law Library, Prints and Photographs, the Manuscript Division, the Motion Picture and Recorded Sound, and others. They can also go to our AMED website to find resources on Africa that are available electronically such as data bases that are free, finding aids such as our African postcard collection; or our webcasts of lectures and programs such as our “Conversations with African Poets and Writers”. They can also ask questions and we will help direct them to the resources they need via the Ask-a-Librarian system. There is so much more I can add, but this is a good start.

When you started your career, where did you think it would lead you?

My career did not follow a straight path. Here is a brief overview of my career path:

Before joining the Library I worked for the United Nations Economic Commission for Western Asia, UNICEF, Amideast, the US Agency for International Development in Beirut, and was also a UN observer for the June 1997 Algerian legislative elections, and returned to Algeria in 2000 to collect Algerian publications for the Library of Congress. I joined the Library of Congress in 1998, as Arab World Area Specialist, and later became Head of the Near East Section, and then Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division. I helped establish Rockefeller Fellowships for Islamic studies at the Library, led a Library of Congress mission to Baghdad to assist with the reconstruction of the National Library of Iraq, and in 2004 accompanied the Librarian of Congress on an official visit to Iran. In February 2011, I led a training program in Dakar for bibliographic representatives from 11 West African nations, including Senegal, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo, to collect West African publications for the Library of Congress. Before joining the Library of Congress I was the Editor of The Middle East Journal, Director of the Omani Program at The American University in Washington D.C. where I was teaching, and Director of the Algeria Working Group at the Corporate Council on Africa. I also taught at Georgetown University and at George Washington University. I am the author of Libya's Foreign Policy in North Africa, and co-author with M.K. Deeb of Libya Since the Revolution: Aspects of Social and Political Development. I am also the co-editor with Mary E. King of Hasib Sabbagh: From Palestinian Refugee to Citizen of the World. I have also written over one hundred and eighty articles, book chapters, and book reviews, for numerous publications including Current History, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Muslim World, Mediterranean Quarterly, The Library of Congress Information Bulletin, and in a number of encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica, and Encyclopedia Americana. I am currently working on a book on Eastern Christians of the Middle East with my husband. I am currently President of the American Tunisian Association.

What is your fondest memory associated with the ASA?

Seeing Toyin Falola entering the ballroom at the 58th Annual Meeting at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in his magnificent regal outfit, and then giving a wonderfully inspiring talk, the last of his presidency.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new member of the ASA or a first time attendee of the Annual Meeting, what would it be?

Listen and Learn!

What is your favorite book (in a non-work sense)?

Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet: Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea.

Tell us something that might surprise us about you. 

I write mysteries, and have published four: Cocktails and Murder on the Potomac, Murder on the Riviera, A Christmas Mystery in Provence, and Death of a Harlequin.

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