An institute firmly established in Tunisia

Established in 1926 by the White Fathers, the Institute of Arabic Literature(IBLA)was as a result of a desire to deepen the knowledge and promote theTunisian culture, in all its aspects. Located in a working-class district of Tunis, IBLA has been able to integrate into the Tunisian society and share its destiny. The White Fathers come from various countries and work hand in hand with Tunisians, enriching each other with their cultural and religious differences.

Book binding after the fire outbreak incident.

With its renowned research library in humanities, its scientific review of international influence and the spaceit dedicates to young people from theneighbourhoods, IBLA has been committed to serve the Tunisian society for decades. The researchers find IBLA a unique, intellectual and academic source, while young people and, more specifically, the residents from the neighbourhood, seize the opportunity to meet other cultures and religions. Through relations of simplicity and friendship, IBLA is a place of exchange. There are few places of such kind in Tunisia.

The fire outbreak

InJanuary 5, 2010, a fire broke out in the research library, resulting in the death of the librarian, Gian Battista Maffi. Half of the documentation was destroyed, while the building and furniture were severely damaged.

Saving of the unburnt books after the fire outbreak incident.

A great wave of solidarity then manifested itself in Tunisia and abroad, testifying the importance of IBLA in the Tunisian cultural landscape. Hundreds of people supported the White Fathers. These included friends, neighbours, students, teachers, intellectuals and different people of goodwill. At the same time, several institutions have continued to support and accompany IBLA. The remarkable ones are; the Tunisian state, embassies of various countries, the European Union, different foundations and associations, institutes and libraries, bookstores and publishing houses, as well as religious congregations. It is by this solidarity, in all its diversity, that the White Fathershave been able to revive IBLA.

The implication of our actions

Through its presence and activities, IBLA helps people to strengthen intellectual, intercultural and interreligious openness. IBLA also considers the tradition of dialogue as a drivingforce towards the future facedwith a global challenge of understanding the other. Thus, IBLA represents an area of freedom, respect and sharing knowledge, where everyoneis both an ‘actor’ and a ‘receiver’ regardless of one’s country, culture and religion. Through a dialogue, embraced in everyday life, IBLA has been committed,for decades, to the service of “living together”. This is theutmost importance in today’s society.

The Research Library

A unique place in Tunisia

Since its beginning, IBLA committed itselfto the service of Tunisian cultural heritage, collecting and gathering the rich and extraordinaryfactsin Tunisia. Specialized inHumanities, in the Arab world, the Research Library counted more than 34,000 titles and 600 reviews in 2010, as well as 130,000 references in its catalogue. Half of these books are in Arabic and the rest in the main European languages. That same year, there were 430 registered researchers, most of whom were Tunisian academicians, students as well as teachers.

The Library is headed by a multicultural and a multi-faith team of Arabic-speaking White Fathers and Tunisian librarians. It ensuresthat IBLA’s researchers and visitors are listened to, in a spirit of respect and dialogue, thus, dedicated to research and knowledge. The library also aims being a ground for intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

What we did

After the fire outbreak incident, the priority of IBLA teamwas to reopen the research library. Thanks to the aid received, thousands of books were restored and saved. Consequently, more than 23,000 titles are now available for consultation. The work carried out by the National Heritage Institute and the White Fathers also helped to replenish sections of the building dedicated to the library. Some of these included,storage rooms meant for books and periodicals,a reading room, a reception desk for researchers, etc.

Mobile shelves and a PMB database were acquired to modernize the structural classification system. The latter is available online, that is, onIBLA’s website. Finally, after a period of “running” in spring 2014, the research library officially reopened on October 18, 2014. After that, nearly 200 researchers registered and more were expected to join them during the 2015/2016 academic year.

Official reopening in the presence of Dr.Gaha

What remains to be done:

Serving Tunisia, a country in full democratic construction, the research library still needs to focus onregaining its quality services and be up-to-date. In 2020/21, it will be the question of:

– ModifyingIBLA’s website as well as the Research Library database system

– Completing the restoration of the documentary collection

– Developing and updating thedocumentary collection by acquiring a selection of recent works

– Launching the digitisation of the works, for a sustainable safeguard of the documentary collection

In a testimony to the Tunisian authorities’ support for IBLA, it is indicated that Dr Gaha (the thenDirector of the National Library of Tunisia and representative of the Minister of Culture) attended the official reopening ofIBLA Research Libraryon 18th October 2014. He is recorded to have said that,«Science, intelligence and tolerance will save humanity. Long live IBLA! »

The Youth Space

The Youth Space comprisesof a library that has been serving the local youth for more than 50 years. Following nationalist movements in Tunisia in 1949, French authorities closed high schools. Tunisian teachers and White Fathersopened the doors of IBLA to students and organised classes for them. In subsequent years, youths from the neighbourhood would come to IBLA to study, and this led to the foundation of a repository library that was designed to meet their needs.

Besides books, they enjoy a warm welcome and a calm atmosphere from which they study. Such an atmosphere can hardly be found elsewhere in Tunisia. For more than 50 years, IBLA has been an important place in the life of Tunisians, especially the ones in the neighbourhood. They have had a space for sharing and self-construction with full support from their families. The 2010 fire outbreak partially damaged the Youth Space’s library and has since been temporarily closed.

What we did

The Closing Time was used to analyse the activities done by the youthsliving in the neighbourhoods. Indeed, the rigorous framework of a library no longer seemed to correspond to the expectations and needs of middle and high school students. A participatory project was designed. In forming this project, the young people also participatedin designing andimplementing the educational activitiesthat would be offered to them in addition to the study space. Some of the prime activities included, computer workshops, arts, school tutorials, language courses… In order to anchor this project in the life of people in the neighbourhood, relations were established with those who run it: associations, inhabitants, institutions, etc. The overall objective of the project was to develop interest in education, civic engagement and intellectual openness among young people in working-class neighbourhoods.

What we still have to do

Now that the research library has been re-opened, the youth project will be one of the major projects for IBLA. During the year 2020/2021, it will be:

-Together with high school students, we want to organise educational activities.

– Partially renewing the computer-data base systemof theYouth Space.

– proposing that a study space shouldbe open in the afternoons and on Saturdays.

«It was at IBLA that I learned tolerance and got a taste for studies. »

Mohamed, a former neighbour who attended IBLA throughout his childhood and adolescence. Now a physiotherapist in France, he recently came to greet us after 10 years away from Tunisia.


A historical Review with international influence

The IBLA REVIEW publishes a 200-page booklet twice a year that aims at helping tocreate a space for intellectual exchange, combining respect, humanism and rigour. It was founded in 1937 in Tunisia, with a combination of several disciplines: Islamic, the study of Arabic language and literature and ethnologywhose scientific status has recently been defined.

With 214 published issues, IBLA Reviewis the oldest magazinein Tunisiaup to date. Its scientific articles and its documentation section make it a particular mirror of contemporary Tunisian life, focusing on daily practices, folklore, family, social, political transformations, etc. Today, it has links with more than 100 magazines and centres around the world. These exchanges feed the research library’s documentary collection and contribute to IBLA’s influence.

From the very beginning, Tunisians have been involved in the writing of issues, and for the past few years the whole team has been made of Tunisians. The review’s editorial board consists of 14 members. All of them aredoctorate degree holders in various disciplines of humanities and social sciences. During their monthly meetings, they choose with strictness and need, the articles proposed by researchers and university lecturers.

What we did

After the fire outbreak incident, the editorial board quickly resumed its activities in order to give hope to the friends of the institute. Publications have continued with regularity ever since. In 2014, the off-series «Tunisian Arabic Course, Level 1» was published. Produced by the White Sisters, this nearly 240-page book is for beginners. It is thus part of the pure tradition of IBLA, as an instrument for creating dialogue between cultures.

What we still need to do

In addition to its semi-annual publications,in 2020/21 IBLA team will focus on:

– Adapting to new editorial needs: digitisation

Publishing the old issues of theREVIEW online.

For further information


Director of IBLA:Fr.Léonce ZINZERE

12 bis Rue Jamâa El Haoua – BabMnara – 1008 TUNIS

+216 71 560 133 IBLA

Official reopeningof IBLA’sresearch library

Official reopeningof IBLA’sresearch library

AnInstitute, a place of cultures, knowledge, research,

Aplace of memory, where the mind finds its place and its openness;

Where Beautiful encounters and cross paths are born and grow;

Where the Letter, the starting point; and the arts, well understood literature, assemble, socialize, enrich themselves and then go to their own destiny;

Where Arabic becomesamultiple link between distant languages and civilizations.

Wherebonds of consented friendships, open and areoffered to theother, who is different and equal.

N.B:Extracted from the speech of Madame SouadGheribmade at the official reopening ceremony of IBLA research library


Institute of Arabic Literature