The importance of the effort of preserving the Timbuktu manuscripts and its potential impact upon the fields of African Studies and African History cannot be over-emphasised. Colonial historiography has always held that Africa had few written languages and as such, the only reliable sources of knowledge on the pre-colonial period were archaeology and oral history. However, even these sources were rather tenuous, since archaeological findings date back to hundreds of thousands of years and oral history may only be able to stretch back about a hundred years.
Crucial to the preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts are the libraries that have been established in the town. While the town has a long history of family collections and libraries, the first official manuscript library to be founded in the modern period, was the Ahmed Baba Institute (IHERI-AB), opened in 1973 under its former name, Centre de Documentation et de Recherches Ahmed Baba (CEDRAB). From the 1990s, private libraries began to be established in Timbuktu, ranging from substantial collections like the Mamma Haidara Libray and the Fondo Kati to smaller ones such as the al-Wangari. The NGO SAVAMA-DCI was created during this period to bring together the private collections and assist with their preservation.
In 2012, Timbuktu was occupied by insurgents during a period of ten months. During this time, many of the established libraries and family collections were removed from their buildings and hidden from view. A 'smuggling operation' organised by SAVAMA-DCI saw about half of the manuscripts from IHERI-AB and those of 35 private collections evacuated to Bamako, where they are found until this day.