The broader world knows little of Timbuktu, but a new effort by Google is shedding light on one of Africa’s most heralded civilizations. By digitizing thousands of pages of scholarly manuscripts from as far back as the 11th century, Google is shedding light on a part of Mali, which was once one of the world’s most important centers of early trade, culture and scholarship. Recent history prompted the initiative. In 2012 and 2013, conflict in Mali imperiled Timbuktu’s manuscripts. At the time, it was thought that hundreds of thousands of documents were destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists, but a coordinated effort took the vast majority of manuscripts out of the firing line and it’s believed that only a few thousand were burned. Abdel Kader Haidara, who was featured in the book “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” was key to the rescue effort. Haidara inherited manuscripts from his father, whose personal library became one of the first public libraries in Timbuktu. Haidara and other librarians smuggled some 350,000 manuscripts more than 600 miles from Timbuktu to Mali’s capital Bamako, where he distributed them to 27 homes for safekeeping. The manuscripts are indicative of Timbuktu’s cosmopolitan past. They are made of a variety of materials, ranging from animal skins to Italian paper and written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. And due to their age, they’re delicate.