In this essay, the libraries of Kabul serve as a microcosm of the international “capacity-building” project in Afghanistan. Visions of modern and digital library systems have run into the realities of donors interested in quick “success stories” more than programs that work long-term, competition for resources and skilled labor between state and nongovernmental organizations, and a cultural conception of information as a resource to be privately possessed and exploited rather than open to public access. Stories of both failure and success in the libraries offer hints as to what of the international development project will survive in the wake of American military withdrawal from the country.

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