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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Functional Literacy and Information Retrieval in Turkey

Prof. Dr. Bengü ÇAPAR, Department of Library Science, Faculty of Letters, University of Ankara


Retrieval of information is realized through the process of communication. Literacy, publications and libraries are the three most important elements of this procedure. To be able to give a gen eral view of the information retrieval in Turkey these will be examined. In this context 'Alphabet Reform', education system, literacy statistics, publication statistics, library use st atistics, library system will be reviewed. Problems concerning information retrieval and their solutions will be pointed out.


Information "is an assemblage of data in comprehensible form recorded on paper or some other medium, and capable of communication" 1. It has to be retrieved by the infor mation users in order to be used in any field of the social life. Information retrieval means "the act and means of obtaining facts and other information which is recorded and indexded in some way by subject, or the documents containing the required facts" 2.

As it can be seen from the definitions of 'information' and 'information retrieval' the information should be recorded on a medium in order to be communicated to the user i.e the retriever. Even in this electronic age most of the recorded information is in written form on printed media, and this printed media or the information itself are stored in libraries or information centers. The retrievers, to reach the information in the first place have to know to decipher the codes the information is recorded in, that is they have to known reading and writing. We call this the st ate of being literate. And secondly they have to be able to reach the publications in which the information is recorded. This can be done by possessing the information media themselves or using th e media stored in the information centers. So the three most important elements that make the information retrieval possible is literacy, publications, and libraries, and information centers . In this context functional literacy means knowing reading and writing and using this asset to gain information by the utilization of publications and libraries, to use it for a social purpose. As it can be seen from what has been said up till how information retrieval is a communication process. The elements of this process is recording and generating information or knowledge through publica tions, disseminating it through libraries and information centers and retrieving it by the use of the ability of literacy to use it in some path of life.

At the present time the development level of a country is estimated by its information production and information retrieval. And the most important indicators of information production a nd retrieval are the degree of literacy of the population, number of publications and the amount of library use. The aim of this paper is to review the state of information retrieval of Turkish popu lation in terms of these these elements. But before this giving some general information about Turkey will be up to the point. Turkey is a peninsula that takes place between Europe and Asia with 779. 452 km2 of land. It is a mountanious country, most of the mountains take place at eastern, western and southern regions. The middle Anatolia is in the form of a plato and there are plains among the mountains and the sea sides where the settlements take place. The population is 56.473.000 according to the census of 1990 and estimated to be 62.526.000 by 1995. Most of the population, that is 59 % lives in urban areas and 40.99 % is settlend in nural regions, with a great potential of mignation from rural to urban areas. The number of cities with populations more then a million are fifteen. According to the 1992 statistics 21.184.313 of the 40.439.964 labor force over 12 years old are employed. 48.8 % of the employed population is engaged in agriculture. The ot hers work in the areas of mining; industry; electricity, gas and water; construction work; trade and tourism; transportation and communication; finance and business; communit y services, etc. 3. The income per capita is over 2000 dollars. Until the decleration of republic Turkey was ruled by monarchy. The republic was founded on October 29th, 1 923. Starting from 1925 a set of crucial reforms took place in the public life. For the sake of our topic the most important one was the "Alphabet Reform".

After giving this short review about Turkey let us return to information retrieval and start discussing its most important element, 'literacy'.

When we look at the literacy statistics in Turkey we see that in 1927 the total population was 13.648.000 and only the 11 % of it was literate 4. This ratio increased to 40 % in 1960; and 77 % in 1985 5. In 1990 the population over 6 years old is 49.163.110. The literate population is 39.555.483. Number of illeterate peopl e is 9.587.981 6. And the ratio of literates to the total population is 80.46 %. In Turkey there are more illeterate women than men. According to the census of 1990 the re were 2.779.172 illeterate males and 6.808.809 females. When the economic activity of the population is considered it is seen that the biggest portion of the illeterates take place among the pop ulation who is engaged in agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing (3.894.624) 7. When a listing is made of the world countries according to the literacy of the popul ation "Turkey comes after Spain, Portugal, Greece, Yugoslavia, Southern Korea and Thailand but comes before Indonesia, Tunisia, Egypt, India, Pakistan" 8, etc.

There are many factors that played a serious role in literacy's increasing from 11 % in 1927 to 80.46 % in 1990. We have to cite here the three most important ones among them. The first one is "A lphabet Reform". Alphabet Reform Law was declared on November 3rd, 1928. By it Latin Alphabet was accepted as the formal alphabet that will be used in all communications and taught in schools from then onwards. The reason for this was explained as the Arabian Alphabet's not being suitable to the Turkish Language, its being very hard to learn and use, and very expensive to be used by the pr inters 9. By this reform learning to read and write became much easier and this factor effected crucially the increase in the number of literates. The second factor that effected it was primary education's becoming compulsory. After the declaration of the Turkish Republic, in 1924 primary education was limited to five years and became compulsory 10. In 1973 this point is emphasized again by the "Fundamental National Education Law" 11 and by the "Primary School Law". In 1993 by the "Ministry of National Edu cation Primary Education Regulations" 12 primary education is combined by secondary school education and increased to eight years. The third thing that promoted the liter acy level in Turkey is the importance that is given to the adult education. After the declaration of republic literacy courses are opened under the responsibility of different organizat ions. They can be listed as such: People's Schools (Halk Mektepleri), Turkish Homes (Türk Ocaklarý), Public Houses (Halk Evleri) before 1960, Public Education Centers (Halk Eðitim Merkezleri) and Public Education Rooms (Halk Eðitim Odalarý) after 1960's 13.

Literacy doesn't mean much when it is not transformed in to functional literacy. 'Functional Literacy' is using the faculty of reading and writing all through one's life to get information and knowl edge. One of the indicators that show the functional literacy level in a country is the amount of the publication activity. The economic rule of supply and demand is true for the publication life t oo. If there is a demand for printed matter and information from the community then the publishers supply them no matter how many problems they have. Now let us look at the situation in T urkey from this point of view.

According to 1992 statistics, 6151 books and 2910 newspapers and periodicals were published in Turkey 14. Number of prints done per title for every book is approxi mately 2000. So this means that 12.302.000 books were printed in 1992. When we divide the number of literate population to the number of books published we see that the ratio is 1 book per every 3.2 people. When we look at the 13 big news papers in Turkey we see that their total circulation is 3.728.364 for January 1990 15. Again this is a very low figure for ov er 39 million literate population. In a public opinion poll that was applied to 1551 persons in different regions of Turkey 74 % of the samples stated that they did not read enough, and m ore than half of the samples said that they read less than before 16. Another indicator of reading habit in a country is the paper use. It is 10 kg per person in Turkey w hile it is 198 kgs in Denmark 17. After giving these information let us return to the publication life. Most of the publications that were printed in Turkey in 199 2 can be grouped under these main subjects: Social sciences (1996), Literature (1338), Applied sciences (755) for books, and general works (1587), Social sciences (877), Applied Scien ces (180) for newspapers and periodicals. All these data shows that a great portion of the Turkish population hasn't passed from the stage of literacy to the stage of functional literacy and th ey use their ability of reading and writing in acquiring social sciences knowledge, applied sciences knowledge, and pass time knowledge. It also shows that they get the information they need throug h audiovisual communication and in traditional ways.

The library use of a population will also show the state of information retrieval in a country. I n an inventory that was done for 2754 information centers (all kinds of libraries, documentation c enters and national archives included) in 1989 the total number of users were given as 24.149.554 18. According to the census of 1990 the population of Turkey was 56.098.00 0. This means that at the time only 43 % of the population were library users.

If we look at the situation according to the types of libraries, panorama is like this: In Turkey the Public Libraries take place under the General Directorate of Public Libraries of the Minist ry of Culture. In 1993 there were 1117 public libraries in Turkey. At the time 22.752.970 users came to these libraries. 12.347.842 of them were between the age of 0 16 and 10.405.118 of them w ere over 16 years old. Again 9.765.978 of the readers were female, 12.986.992 were male 19. This shows that more than half of the population doesn't use public libraries . Children and young adults use the public libraries more than adults, and more males than females came to the libraries.

In Turkey school libraries are under the authority of the General Directorate of School Libraries of Ministry of Education. There were 4.919 school libraries in 1994, but it is impossible to get any statistical data on the users. Only most of the users going to the public libraries being between 6 16 years of age shows that school library system doesn't work quite well.

There are 50 universities in Turkey. Some of them are old traditional universities and most of them were established after 1992. The libraries of the new ones are at the organization stage. The re are a total of 915.765 university students and 38.483 teaching staff in Turkish universities 20. There is no statistic showing the total number of the readers of the university libraries. Just to give an idea we'll cite here a few examples. In Gazi University there are 34.533 students and 2325 faculty members. The number of the members of the university libr ary is 11.678. Total Number of the readers that used the library is 226.794 in 1993. In Bilkent University the total population of the university is 10.548, number of users is 9210 and the r atio of usage is 87 %. In Ýzzet Baysal University the total population is 5619, number of user is 586 and the ratio of usage is 10 %. In Gaziantep University the total population is 5070, n umber of users is 3368 and library use is 66 % 21. These figures show that the users of university libraries know their information needs and use libraries with quite a high ratio.

There are three main information centers in Turkey that serve the researchers. They are the Higher Education Council Documentation Center; The Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey , Information Division and The National Library. The total number of persons that are occupied by research and development activities is 39.817 according to the 1992 statistics 22. The number of users served by these three information centers are as below:

The use of INTERNET is another indicator of information retrieval in Turkey. Turkey's connection date to INTERNET is April 1993. In 1994 the number of INTERNET users is 700 2 5.

All this data indicates that the researchers form quite a conscious group of information retrievers.

As a conclusion it can be said that although more than 80 % of the population is literate, functional literacy is not evenly perceived by the different social groups in Turkey. One very important r eason for this is not giving the population enough education on the use of publications, information centers and services. The population group that has the lowest literacy ratio is the farmers, fishers etc. because they are the lowest income group and the number of schools at the rural areas are less than the urban areas. The percentage of male literate and library using populatio n is higher than the females. This can be explained by the traditional structure of the Turkish society. Young people between the ages of 6 and 16, students of higher education and the researche rs are the main population groups that retrieve information by the use of printed media or the libraries. This can be explained by their immediate information needs and their level of education.

In Turkey the solution of the functional literacy and information retrieval problem lies in the formation of an all inclusive information policy, establishment and diffusion of very well working inf ormation centers all over the country and a very well planned user education program.


1. Leonard Montague Harrod, Harrod Librarian's Glossary of Terms used in Libranianship Documentation and the Book Crafts and Reference Book, 6th ed. compiled by Ray Prytherch, (Lon don: Gower, 1987), p. 381.

2. Ibid, p. 108.

3. The numeric data in this paragraph is taken from the, Turkey, State Institute of Statistics, Statistical Year Book of Turkey, 1993, (Ankara: Devlet Ýstatistik Enstitüs&u uml; Matbaasý, 1993).

4. Osman Ersoy, " Eðitimde Kütüphane (Libraries in Education)" Türk Kütüphaneciliði (Türkish Librarionship), 8,2 (1994), p. 91.

5. Ibid., p. 91.

6. Turkey, State Institute of Statistics, Ibid., p. 68.

7. Ibid., p. 82.

8. Zekai Baloðlu, Türkiye'de Eðitim... (Education in Turkey)..., (Ýstanbul: Türk Ýþ Adamlarý Derneði, 1990), pp. 42 43.

9. Mustafa Ergün, Atatürk Devri Türk Eðitimi (Turkish Education during Atatürk's Period), (Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi Dil ve Tarih Coðrafya Fakültesi, 1982), p.100.

10. Ibid., p. 70.

11. "Milli Eðitim Temel Kanunu, Kanun no: 1739", Milli Eðitim Bakanlýðý Tebliðler Dergisi, 36, 1750 (2 Temmuz 1973), p. 284.

12. T.C. Milli Eðitim Bakanlýðý, Milli Eðitim Bakanlýðý Ýlköðretim Kurumlarý Yönetmeliði (Ministry of Nationa l Education Regulations for Primary Schools) (Ýstanbul: 1993), pp. 5,10.

13. T.C. Milli Eðitim Bakanlýðý, Educational Activities in Turkey (1984 1985), (Ankara: 1986), p. 23; T.C. Milli Eðitim Bakanlýð&yacut e;, XIII. Milli Eðitim Þurasý Yaygýn Eðitim Hazýrlýk Döküman (XIII. National Education Assembly, Adult Education Preparatory Document), (Ankara: 1990), pp. 1 11.

14. Turkey, State Institute of Statistics, Cultural Statistics 1992, (Ankara: 1994), p. 3.

15. D. Suat Özçelebi and N. Seler Cebecioðlu, Okuma Alýþkanlýðý ve Türkiye (Reading Habit and Turkey), (Ýstanbul: Milliyet Yay ýnlarý, 1990), p. 104.

16. PIAR Araþtýrma Ltd. Þti., Niçin Az Okuyoruz: Kamuoyu Araþtýrmasý Raporu (Why Do we Read Little: Report of the Poll), (Ýstanbul, 199 0), vol. 1, p. 16, (unpublished).

17. Bülent Yýlmaz, Okuma Alýþkanlýðýnda Halk Kütüphanelerinin Rolü (The Role of Public Libraries in Reading Habit), (Ankara: K&uu ml;ltür Bakanlýðý, Kütüphaneler Genel Müdürlüðü, 1993), p. 47.

18. T.C. Kültür Bakanlýðý, Kütüphaneler ve Yayýnlar Genel Müdürlüðü, Türkiye Kütüphaneleri ve Diðer Bilgi Merkezleri, (Turkish Libraries and other Information Centers), (Ankara: 1989), p. 890.

19. These figures are taken from unpublished documents of the Directorate of Public Libraries, Ministry of culture.

20. Turkey, Higher Education Council, Student Selection and Placement Center, The 1992 1993 Academic Year Higher Education Statistics, (Ankara: 1993), pp. 3,4.

21. These figures are taken from the unpublished documents sent to the Higher Education Council Documentation Center by the university libraries.

22. "Devlet Ýstatistik Enstitüsü Baþkanlýðý 1992 Bilimsel ve Teknolojik Araþtýrma Geliþtirme Faaliyetleri Anketinin Sonuçl arýný Açýkladý. (Results of Research and Development Inquiry)", T.C. Baþbakanlýk Devlet Ýstatistik Enstitüsü Haber Bülteni, 12.5.1 994, p. 11.

23. These figures are taken from the anpublished documents of the two information centers.

24. Turkey, State Institute of Statistics, Cultural Statistics..... ,p. 7

25. "INTERNET'e Baðlananlarýn Sayýsý Artýyor (There is an Increase in the Connection to INTERNET)",TÜBÝTAK Enformatik Bülteni, (14 Ekim A ralýk 1994) p. 5