IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

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

Towards a National Cooperative Cataloguing System for Manuscripts in Turkey

Mehmet E. Kucuk
Richard J. Hartley

1. Introduction

This paper examines ways in which bibliographic control of Turkey's rich manuscript collection can be improved. The approximate sizes of the manuscript collections in Turkey are indicated and the ma jor collections noted. This is followed by a report on the current state of manuscript cataloguing in Turkey. Any proposals for improving the current situation must take realistic account of informat ion technology. By this is meant that the opportunities offered by the technology must be exploited to their best possible effect but that consideration needs to be given to the constraints of manpow er and finances that are available. The technologies that may be used to improve the current situation are considered, and the steps that need to be taken to improve the current situation are outline d.

2. Manuscripts in Turkey

Turkey has some very rich manuscript collections with approximately 600,000 volumes, almost exclusively Islamic manuscripts. The collections are only thinly catalogued, and Turkey has no national un ion database or catalogue. The largest collection of manuscripts is held by the Suleymaniye Library, which has approximately 67,000 manuscripts in the main library and probably a further 240,000 in i ts 45 branch libraries. Other major collections are held by the Division of Rare Books at Istanbul University whose collection approaches some 20,000 items, and the Turkish National Library, which ha s a collection of similar size. In addition, there are substantial collections at the Beyazid State Library and at the Konya Regional Manuscript Library (KRML). In most cases there is little growth i n the size of the collections, as might be expected--however in the case of KRML there is quite substantial growth: estimated at about 9,000 items in 1993-94. This is because it is a Regional Manuscr ipt Library at which manuscripts are being centralized. As well as these major collections, it is known there are many manuscripts in mosques, small public libraries, and even on occasions in homes w here they are viewed as family heirlooms. Manuscripts from the Ottoman period occur in one of three languages: Arabic, Ottoman or Persian. Whilst Arabic is the dominant language, there appears to be considerable variation in the importance of the three languages in the different collections, as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1.     Approximate percentages of manuscripts in each language

Language    Beyazid State   Istanbul university   Konya regional   National Library   Suleymaniye library

Arabic          80%               30%                  80%               65%               75%
Ottoman         15%               60%                  10%               25%               19%
Persian          4%               10%                  10%               10%             5.99%
Other            1%                                                                      0.01%

3. The Cataloguing of Manuscripts: The Current Situation

In the summer of 1994, a series of visits to the major manuscript collections was undertaken. The organizations visited were the National Library, the Suleymaniye library, Istanbul university librar y, Konya Regional Manuscript Library and Beyazid State Library. These visits included a series of structured interviews with appropriate members of library staff, and extended observations of practic e. The visits and interviews have provided a reasonable picture of the state of the manuscript cataloguing art as currently practiced in Turkey. Statements can be made about transliteration standards , forms of catalogues, levels of bibliographic description, cataloguing codes, automation, subject access, and the skills and knowledge available for manuscript cataloguing.

While manuscripts occur in one of the three languages noted above, Turkey has been using the latin alphabet since 1928. Accordingly, catalogue entries must be produced in Turkish with the latin alp habet, and the standard for transcription is "Islam Ansiklopedisi Transkripsiyon Listesi".

Most libraries maintain their catalogues of manuscripts in card form, although KRML also has some 2,000 records in printed book form. The exception is the Suleymaniye library, which has a computeriz ed catalogue. As of last year, this catalogue contained slightly over 100,000 records for manuscripts and rare books from both the central collection and its 45 branch libraries. Turkish libraries us e a set of 1958 cataloguing rules devised in Turkey for the cataloguing of manuscripts.1 Discussions with various Turkish librarians have indicated that there is a lack of confidence in western cata loguing codes such as AACR2 and RAK, even though it is uncertain whether the doubters have a detailed knowledge of these codes.

There is considerable variation in the level of bibliographic description that is used. This occurs not only between libraries but also within libraries. On occasions this is caused because the nece ssary information is not readily determined in the manuscript. In addition, the knowledge and experience of cataloguers in determining the data is far more important in this field than is the case wi th the cataloguing of books.

The position with subject cataloguing is similarly unsatisfactory. Four of the five major collections uses Dewey Decimal Classification. The exception is Istanbul University Library, which does not classify manuscripts. This library uses its own locally-developed list of subject headings for subject description. Subject headings are also included in bibliographic descriptions at the National Li brary, however these do not appear to be taken from a standard list rather they seem to be natural language headings ascribed by the cataloguers.

Predictably all the major libraries suffer from a shortage of staff to deal with the manuscripts awaiting cataloguing. In addition, there are problems with the knowledge and skills of these people. Whilst most have the necessary background in languages needed to deal with the manuscripts, few have a background in librarianship and hence cataloguing.

No discussion of the current situation would be complete without mention of the TUYATOK-Turkiye Yazmalari Toplu Katalogu (the Union Catalogue of Manuscripts in Turkey) office in the National Library . This office was formed in 1978 with the objective of creating a Union Catalogue of manuscripts in Turkey. To date it has catalogued some 15,000 items with a level of detail and completeness that ha ve enabled the records to be published. Whilst it is known that many more items have been partially catalogued, the current rate of publication is approximately 1,000 records per year. At this rate of progress it will take approximately 500 years to complete the Union catalogue.

Catalogues exist for library users. Accordingly, a questionnaire survey has been undertaken of the catalogues needs of manuscript users in the major libraries. The results are not yet available. Nev ertheless since surveys of user needs are not common in Turkish libraries and unknown as far as manuscript collections are concerned, it is hoped that we may have some survey results to share by the time of the conference.

4. Factors Influencing A Feasible Approach To Manuscript Cataloguing

Proposals must take into account the fact that the number of staff available to catalogue manuscripts is limited. In addition, consideration must be given to the fact that most people working with t he manuscripts have considerable linguistic but limited cataloguing knowledge.

Obviously an important factor influencing any approach to cataloguing manuscripts is information technology. It would be possible to write several papers on this topic alone so comments are both bri ef and selective. The current degree of library automation in Turkey is very limited. In 1994 no public libraries had automated systems and many universities libraries did not have automated housekee ping systems. Nevertheless it can be anticipated that this situation will change. One university library is known to have an integrated housekeeping system and some functions have been automated in other university libraries. It is taken for granted that any solution to the problem of manuscript cataloguing must be based on an automated approach. While telecommunications may not be as advanced in Turkey as in some western nations, there is access to the European academic network EARN, and Turkey has its own Packet Switching Network (TURPAK).2 There is also a communications network (TUVAKA) , which links universities and research organizations. This ought to form the basis for linking the various manuscript collections thereby permitting a cooperative approach to cataloguing.

If these technologies can be viewed as standard, we believe that there are two more advanced technologies worthy of investigation. The first is expert systems. Arguably this was a technology of the 1980's when much work was undertaken to investigate its applicability to library problems (including cataloguing). Whilst we do not underestimate the effort needed to create an expert system, we cons ider that the limited level of cataloguing knowledge and the need to promote cataloguing uniformity mean that the potential of expert systems (either for training, advising or assisting manuscript ca taloguers) is worthy of investigation. The final comment is not directly related to cataloguing. Manuscripts are rare and valuable items that can only be consulted in one place. Consideration ought t o be given to storing images of the manuscripts, possibly on CD-ROMs, and using this as a distribution mechanism to make the manuscripts more widely accessible to the international academic community . This would be an ambitious undertaking and we do not underestimate the problems though we can be certain the technical problems will be the least difficult to solve. Thus the long term objective ou ght to be nothing less than both a machine-readable catalogue for manuscripts and digitized versions of those manuscripts.

5. A Realistic Approach To Cooperative Cataloguing

As indicated in the title of the paper, it is clear that the only viable solution involves cooperation between the major manuscript collections in the creation of a union catalogue. It is reasonable to plan this on the basis of a machine readable catalogue. Accordingly, it will be necessary to reach agreement on a record format and cataloguing rules that must be used by each of the participants . Decisions in this area should be taken to ensure international compatibility and so the record format adopted must come from the MARC family. In addition, it will be necessary to agree upon a stand ard method of subject cataloguing for use in each library. At Haceteppe University, a research project has been undertaken to investigate the suitability of the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme fo r the classification of Islamic manuscripts.3 Not surprisingly, given that it is a tool created in the west and from a western perspective, it was found wanting. As a part of the same project, some extensions to Dewey were developed that were intended to make it appropriate for the classification of Islamic manuscripts. It seems sensible to investigate the use of this amended version of Dewey a s the classification tool to be used by all the libraries. And, given the available resources and skills, it also seems sensible that initial attempts concentrate on simplified cataloguing, which can be upgraded at a later date should more resources become available. Expert systems may have a role in distributing scarce cataloguing knowledge to libraries--either as training tools, advice-giving tools or as cataloguing aids. Whilst much has been written about expert systems in cataloguing, practical experience in this area has been limited to date. However, the circumstances of manuscript ca taloguing in Turkey differ from those in other countries and may be more amenable to success.

Library cooperation is not widespread in Turkey, and it will be necessary to provide the appropriate codes, practices and structures to encourage and cause the cooperation to take place. In its pres ent existence as a part of the National Library, TUYATOK does not have the status and authority necessary to implement change. It seems more likely to gain that status if it is granted autonomy. At t he very least, it requires some financial independence from the National Library to facilitate development and planning. Like many other countries, Turkey has a range of problems that makes expenditu re on manuscripts and their cataloguing a low priority. Even "realistic" proposals will require more resources, and most importantly continued and regular resources than are currently available. This can only occur if manuscripts are given a higher priority. It seems likely that they will receive a higher priority if they are accepted,as they should be, as a part of Turkey's cultural heritage. G iven that we refer to manuscripts of the Ottoman empire, which stretched well beyond the national boundaries of Turkey, and that this is the major international gathering of librarians, then it is ap propriate to go beyond that and view this manuscript collection as a part of the cultural heritage of all humanity. As such, these manuscripts deserve to be catalogued and made more widely accessible in order to promote greater understanding of Islamic culture.


1. Yazma ve Eski Basma Kitaplorin Tasnif ve Fisleme Klavuzu ve Islam Dini Ilimleri Tasnif Cefveli.Haz. Aziz Berker ve Ismet Parmaksizoglu. Maarif Vekaleti Yayim Mudurlugu: Ankara .1958.
2. Yildiz,I. The national scene in information and documentation activities and recent developments in the documentation centre of TUBITAK (TURDOK). Journal of Information Science 1993 19(1) 37-40
3. Gundogdu, Fahriye. Turk-Islam Kulturu Eserleri Icin Bir Siniflandirma Modeli Denemesi. (Yayinlanmamis Doktora Tezi). Hacettepe Universitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitusu: Ankara ; 1990.