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"The Library Week" in Turkey &
Turkish-American Libraries in the USA

by Yuksel OKTAY

42nd Library Week in Turkey,  March 27 - April 3, 2006 And Turkish-American Libraries in the USA

The last week in March is celebrated as "The Library Week" in Turkey, which this years falls on March 27 - April 2. A series of activities have been scheduled by the Istanbul Governor's office, universities, research centers and other organizations and both the President  and the Prime Minister have issued statements emphasizing the importance of libraries as the driving force behind progress and development. There was a ceremony at the National Library in Ankara where Ali Fuat Kartal, the president of Turkish Libraries Association and Attila Koc, the Minister of Tourism and Culture spoke. However, only a handful of newspapers so far have published articles on these activities or the importance of the Libraries (Hurriyet, Aksam, Milliyet and others.) There were no posters proclaiming the library week and urging people to read, a practice common with every celebration in Turkey, even for opening of underpasses or overpasses.

According to an article in one of the Istanbul newspapers, there are 1,430 public libraries accross Turkey (1) . The number of private libraries is estimated to be around 100. According to the same article, 50 libraries are closed due to lack of staff or renovations. Milliyet, in an article published on Jan 5, 2006, "Libraries are Hunting Flies", states that there are 62 mobile libraries in Turkey which serves the poor areas around the big cities. The number of libraries per 100,000 is only 2 (2).

The National Library in Ankara, founded in 1948, serves as the depositary of all books, magazines published in Turkey and also as a research library. However, Dogan Hizlan in his Hurriyet column on March 29 states that the library is in need of trained staff with proper degree in library studies, that only 18 of the 200 personnel working at the library are professionals and the number of staff required is over 300. One of the most precious books in the National library is a bible written on gazelle skin in Greek, obtained during the capture of Istanbul in 1453. However, this and many other books can only be seen by researchers and not the public. An interesting story was told by Sakir Suter in his Aksam column stating that a 17 year old student was not allowed in the library due to age limit of 18. Evidently foreigners need to obtain permission to use the library.

Beyazit State Library is the oldest and the largest library in Istanbul, founded in 1884 as the "Kutuphane-i Umumi-i Osmani". It is open to everyone, however books are not allowed to be checked out and it is usually difficult to obtain back issues of some newspapers.  One of the librarians stated that the total number of books in 2005 was close to six hundred thousand. Library at the  Mosque Complex in Uskudar.  

One of the busiest libraries in Istanbul is located in the Semsi Pasa Mosque complex in Uskudar, built by the great architect Sinan. A number of periodicals and daily newspapers are available in addition to a large collection of books. When a suggestion was made for a book that the library could purchase, It was satted that this was not the practice, which is common in the US, and that not too many books are purchased each year. The renewal fee for the library card was only 200 Yeni Kurus, the reason for probably not having a budget to purchase new books.

The librarian also stated that many individuals donate books.

Library at the Ataturk Mosaleum  

Library at the Ataturk Mosaleum re-opened last year which houses close to 4,000 books that Ataturk owned and read, even at battlefields. Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Yavuz Sultan Selim  are known to have large collection of books also.

Ays‡n-Rafet Atac library in Osmanbey, Istanbul, located in the former offices of 79 year old Rafet Atac who has donated close to 20,000 books that he has collected over the years, is one of the largest private libraries in Turkey. The library is open to anyone who wants to read books, but according the librarian, very few people take time to visit the library, which is close to a metro station and easily accessible.

Bergama Public Libraries by Rasime Seyhoglu  

A 71 year lady has started establishing public libraries in Bergama with the slogan "A Library for every village." The first library was opened in Hacihamzalar Village in 19 October 2001 with 3,600 books, and the second one in Karaveliler village in 2002 with 4,000 books. Now the total number of libraries has reached 7 with more in the planning stages.

University Libraries - All universities (last count 76 with 15 more new ones) have libraries, some with over 750,000 books and periodicals. Most collectors donate their books to one of the universities, such as Prof. Dtr. Halil Inalcik who donated over 7,500 books to Bilkent University where he established the History Department.

Turkish Libraries in the United States  

One of the best attributes of the United States is the availability of libraries in every city, town and village. Libraries not only make books, newspapers, periodicals available to its readers but also  provide forums for meetings and exhibitions. An exhibition of paintings, books, magazines and art work on Turkey was exhibited at the North Brunswick Library in NJ in 1993 during the  Turkish Republic's 70th Anniversary celebrations.

Most Turkish-American Cultural centers and associations have collection of books, but as of this date there is not library in the United States. As part of the Turkish Republic's 50th anniversary celebrations, a library was established at the new offices of the Federation of Turkish American Associations in New York City in 1973. Many individuals, including Prof Dr. Reha Oguz Turkkan, Prof. Dr. Talat Halman and others, donated books which began to serve the Turkish-American community who were genuinely interested in reading. One of the suggestions at the time was the creation of a "Turkish-American Library" in New York City, which never materialized and the books donated are gathering dust on few shelves in the offices of the FTAA at the Turkish Center. This year the FTAA will be celebrating the 50th anniversay of its founding in 1956 and perhaps the most meaningful activity could be the establishment of a Turkish-American Library.

This week Kadikoy Anadolu Lisesi opened the doors of "50th Anniversary Library" with 5,000 books and many periodicals which can be a model for the FTAA Library. The library could be a depository for the books of many Turks in America who return to Turkey for good, which is a substantial number. Many Turkish and Turkish-American organizations active in the US could provide the necessary assistance in establishing the library.

A New Public Library for Ankara  

A recent Cumhuriyet Ankara Supplement published a poll by Prof. Dr. Talat Halman on 14 suggestions to improve the life in Ankara. One of the suggestions was on building a Public Library in the center of Ankara, similar to the spectacular 7 story Public Library in Seattle, Washington. Public and private libraries are needed all over Turkey where ordinary citizens can spend time and think about what can be done to continue the enlightenment and the reforms started with Gazi Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.The Istanbul branch of the Turkish Librarians Association recently issued a statement that the libraries should be considered as the foundation for the conscious of democracy and citizeship and that the new Library legislation should be enacted by the Turkish Parliament as soon as possible.


    -     Genc Turk, Moris Farhi. The 1930 - 1960 period in Turkey, told by a Briton known as ‘’The  Turk. 2005

    -          Cobra II, Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, 2006

    -          Death On the Bosphorous, Arlene McKanic, Norton

    -          The Man on Whom Nothing was Lost, Molly Worthen, Houghton Mifflin,

    -          Kurtulus Savasi Kadinlari, Zeki Sarihan

    -          A Myth of Error, Turkey, Europe and Public Opinion, Erich Feigel, 2005

    -          Tarihcilerin Kutbu Halil Inalcik, Emine Caykara

    -          Bir 2023 Ruyasi, Mehmet Ogutcu, Creative Yayincilik, 2006

    (1)     The number of public libraries in Germany 11,332, France 4,008, UK 4,937 and Spain 5,209.The number of Meyhane (bar) in Turkey is 17,000, Kahvehane (Coffee house) 250,000 with only 1 Kiraathane (coffe house with books) established based on EU norms.

    (2)     The number of libraries per 100,000 people in Germany 14, France 7, UK 8, Spain 13, Turkey 2. The number of staff working in libraries in Germany 8,337, France 7,088, UK 6,978, Spain 3,794 and in Turkey 297 (Tercuman).

    Yuksel Oktay, PE
March 31, 2006

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