When the Jihadist occupation began in 2012, hundreds of thousands manuscripts were smuggled out of Timbuktu to Bamako. However, a small but important minority of the owners did not flee the city and hid their manuscripts in and around Timbuktu. These manuscripts need to be preserved.
The Imam Essayouti, (Djingarey Ber Mosque, 1327), the Al Aqib library (Sankore Mosque (1325-1433) and the Al Wangari library (Sidi Yahia Mosque, 1440) are three of the most important manuscript libraries in Timbuktu. All three of these have benefited from the reconstruction by UNESCO after the Jihadist occupation. The collections are composed of manuscripts in large proportion relating to Islam, with some illuminated manuscripts, secular poetry and some Fatwas. It stems from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the oldest dated 1528.
Peace in Mali has proved to be elusive. Timbuktu remains under siege, even if it is protected by UN soldiers. Many of the manuscripts have been moved to Bamako, where an international digitisation effort is under way. However, no funding is given to digitise the manuscripts remaining in Timbuktu.
The project team worked in difficult conditions, with continuous electricity cuts. Nevertheless, the team digitised 3,808 manuscripts across the three libraries. The manuscripts remain in the libraries, which can be visited with an appointment. The project was co-funded with Hill Museum and Manuscript Library. The project employed 15 local people, who were given full training and remained employed by HMML until the end of their digitisation efforts in the city.