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

National Libraries in Turkey, Middle East and Central Asia: Past and Present

ALTINAY SERNIKLI, National Library of Turkey, Ankara, Turkey


The world is yet in the age of information. Developments in the fields of science and technology speeded up the information production phase and increased the number of demands for information. Thi s age has taken its impetus from scientific studies and research. This driving force can only be effective through the capacity, performance and the value of accumulated knowledge. In order to be successful in cultural and economic development, we need to collect sources of information retrospectively and also currently. The need for accumulating national information and the establishment of National libraries are grounded on such a basis. Thus, the importance of national libraries as the centres for national information has increased. Today many countries are trying to offer servic es derived from their collections, providing and preserving information sources through libraries which may not be called National libraries but specially organised to give the services that a natio nal library provides. Godfrey Borston, in his article entitled "National Libraries and Analysis" states that according to their structure, national libraries could be classified in six groups. In t his structural establishment, the historical life of the country and the library plays a great role. Thus, while introducing national libraries of Turkey, her neighbours in Asia and newly establishe d republics in Central Asia, in order to achieve a sound assessment, we need to have a look at the cultural developments of these regions.

While doing my research, I found two main points considerably difficult. The first one is that many well known countries and cultural centres have been founded in this geography both in the years BC and AD. We still have them today. However, state structure of the region had gone through many changes. The second point was that although I have managed to find out that there used to be very bi g and famous libraries in the region, it was hard to find out traces of their collections carried to date. In order to carry out a sound assessment and comparison, we need to look at the establishme nt and development of national libraries in Turkey, in her neighbours and in newly established republics in Central Asia. It is really hard to decide whether in the new world order, the national lib raries of some countries in the region stated above are new and modern organisations or the extensions of national historical cultural centres.

If we define national libraries as a bridge between a country's past and future, in order to evaluate the bridge we need to look at both sides of it. If we first look at the ideal national libraries in the western world, it will be easy to evaluate the samples from the eastern world.

In place of national libraries there used to be Royal Libraries in Europe aiming to collect and preserve country's original publication. Let's take French National Library which is one of the most c ontemporary national libraries of the world, as an example. The Royal Library of France established in 1473, with the declaration of French National Council in 1975, has become the first National Li brary established through a legislation (Bibliotheqa National). The concept of a national library emerged in the fifteenth century in Europe, started to be legalised in the eighteenth century. Howe ver, it developed itself in the same country, city and culture.

In the western world National libraries, previously aiming to have a collection of all the publications of their own countries, expanded this to any published materials in any language and in any sc ientific field. While providing a range of services, they have become the only libraries in their countries that can be centralised, standardised and carry out co operations on national and internat ional levels.

After the establishment of National and University Libraries Section within the body of IFLA in '1952 IFLA meeting in Copenhagen', the concerns of National Libraries started to be discussed separate ly in annual meetings of IFLA.

In the 'International Standardisation of Library Statistics' meeting of UNESCO in 1970, National Libraries were defined as "no matter what their names are, the libraries, that were nominated to fulfi l the responsibility of collecting depository copies, gathering and preserving country's published materials through any legislation or any other special arrangements".

National Libraries of developed countries managed to come together under the roof of a great federation like IFLA, are competing with the developing technology in their retspective countries.

We are confronted with a different view when we look at the library services in this region of the world from an historic point of view. It is hard to see a continuity and to trace an improvement as in the west. In addition for centuries there had been a gap, a lack of communication with the libraries of the west whereas even in the worst time of the world's history there used to be an informat ion network between the west and the east.

There was the Silk Road lying from ancient China to the coast of the Mediterranean which had started to be used before the rise of Christianity. The Silk Road starting from Ýstanbul, Antakya and Tir and lying through to Iran and Afghanistan reached to a clearing point called 'Taþ Kule' located in the Pamir region. Here caravaneers from west and east were exchanging goods. An exten sion of this road branching at Baktýr went to Nint and another one passed through what is now called Russian Turkistan. (Map 1)

There had been two roads in Turkishland and China. These were surrounding the Takla Makan desert (over Yarkent and Kotan) from the south and the north and cross to reach to Doyang region. Linking the west to the far east and India to China, the silk road had an invaluable role in the exchange of philosophies and religions, art works and traditions. Over these caravans, science and culture h ad been carried from one country to another.

In the big cities alongside the silk road, which had been so popular from the second century BC to early nineteenth century AD where the exchange of western and eastern civilisation had taken place, the state libraries of great cultures had been established. This road carried the scientific world of the Central Asia to Europe, and Europe to Asia. Let's have a look at them chronologically along side the silk road:

In the "Mongolian History" of Marujo D'ohsson, it was said that there were state libraries open to public use in the Uygur cities. From the library in Karahocha, 30,00 rolls still survive. In the d igs the archaeologists Aurel Stein and Albert von Lecog carried near So co river in Eastern Turkmenistan, they found the largest library of the Central Asia in the Tuen huang cave of 500m3 deep. Mos t part of the findings were transferred to Berlin and London. They also found wooden letter moulds used in printing books in Uygur language. This shows that the Uygur Turks were printing books in the eighth century (AD).

According to what the histographers say, the value and the size of these libraries were more than that of the ones in Europe between the eighth century and the thirteenth century. Their quality of p apers, illuminations, bindings and scientific merit were invaluable.

Heffening who wrote an appendix to the 'library' article in the Islam Encyclopaedia, says that ' when we look at the libraries in Central Asia of the tenth century and compare them to ones in Europ e, we can say that they were far ahead of the latter'.

The histographer Yakut u Hamavi, in his book 'Mu'cem ül büldan' states that there was a big library in Merv city which was lending books in return of 200 dinars. According to a document da ted 24 November 1396 (H21 Safer 799) histographer Ibn i Haldun pledged his book entitled 'Kitab ül iber' to Camil'ül Karaviyin Library in Morocco for two months. (Map 2) The early libraries in Iran had consisted of books written in Pahlavi script and kept in caves and basements. It is said that these had been transferred to the Alexandria Library by Alexander. The first state libraries in Iran had been established in the Samanoðullarý reign in the eighth and ninth centuries. The library in the palace of Nuh B. Nasr, Sultan of Bukhara had been the g reatest of the age. Ibni Sina, known as Avecena in Europe and who had been teaching medicine at the Rome University was managing this library. At the same age there was another big library called ' Sayvan ül Hikme' in Isfahan which had many translated works of Greek philosophers. (Map 3)

It is possible to find the oldest libraries and archives of the world in Iraq. The first cuniciform writing tablet library of Asurbanibal (fourth century BC) in Ninova, was at the same time the firs t library which had a classification system of its own. In the eighth and ninth century AD Ma'mun, khalif of Abbasids, had established the first library open to general public called Dar al Hikme i n Baghdad. He had enriched its collection with the Arabic translations of books in Greek he had bought from Byzantine.

We see big state libraries in Iraq in the age of Seljukian Empire. In the reign of Alpaslan and Melikshah, vizier Nizamülmülk had established the largest university libraries of the age in Baghdad and Nishabur. (11th century (AD))

All the histographers admire the libraries in Merv city in the reign of Sencer, the Seljukian Sultan. Ten of them were open to public and lending books. The one called "Hizanet üs Sultan" was the largest and it was the palace library. (Map 4)

The library with 30,000 volumes at the Save city located between Rey and Hamedan had been burnt to the ground during the Mongolian invasion in the Christian year 1220.

The Mongol emperor Hulagu Han, had established a library of 400,000 volumes for the Iranian scholar Nasirüddin in Meraga using the books he had taken from Baghdad, Damascus and Elcezire during h is invasion through Central Asia.

Big libraries in Syria had only been founded after the Islam religion. We can see state established general and university libraries just in the reign of Fatimies in the eleventh century. Suldan N ureddin Zengi known as Melik ül Adil had established a library called "Hazain i Nuriyye". Besides those, the most famous library of the age in Tripoli and the Zahiriye Library established in Da mascus were famous for their copies of Greek scholarly works translated into Arabic. During the Crusades in 1108 (AD) three million invaluable rare books of these libraries were destroyed by fire.

The Silk Road was ending in Istanbul, Antalya in the south and Ýzmir in the West. Not the collections but some monuments from Pergamum Parchment Library (First century BC) and the SELSIUS Lib rary in Ýzmir which was used as the background for IFLA/95 brochures could reach today. The bath library in the town of Side in Antalya is the only one of its kind in the world. The Harran University established near Diyarbakýr, (the seventh century) was the largest university of the age which was world famous for its scientific studies in Arabic, Persian and Latin mediums. If we were to accept the six national library categories of Godfrey Burston stated in the introduction of this essay, we can say that all libraries mentioned above do have the qualities of being a natio nal information centre.

Various civilisations had flourished in Anatolia, e.g. Lydians, Phrygians, Hittites, Ionians, Romans and Byzanteans. With the settlement of Turks in Anatolia in 1071 AD, western and eastern civilis ations came together in Ýstanbul.

Turks living on these lands for 925 years, had been keeping up with their library tradition developed in Central Asia. They also preserved the collections of the previously existing libraries.

Mehmet the Third, during the Ottoman Empire had established the first state and university libraries open to the public in 1470 AD. This had been followed by many other libraries in different distr icts of Istanbul and in other cities. In the reign of the Ottoman Empire, instead of state libraries with characteristics of a national library, foundation libraries open to public and scholars w ere established. These libraries which may be subject to another research had been in service until the eighteenth century. The Library called "Kütüphane i Devlet i Aliyye i Osmaniye" was the first library which had collected every material related to Turkish culture all around the world. With the establishment of Turkish Republic, there was no change in the organisational structure of the libraries but the management styles were modernised.

Since the Silk Road had reserved its importance till the end of 16th century, the cities in Central Asia had carried out their cultural activities. In the 17th century, with the effect of rapidly de veloping navigation, these states found themselves deteched from the west and fighting to survive. They could not reach the west. Then the west forgot them.

Ten years prior to 2000, all the walls in the world were ruined. The world now has a very different and a new order.

Let us go on to our introduction on the map of today's world. We need to look at today's view over two different aspects.

The first one is that these are states who had hardly relations with the western world after the seventeenth century, closed themselves to the world for the last 70 years and lived in a closed social structure and a scholar world of their own. Kyrgyzstan, Kzakhistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan still located on the historical silk road are newly established Turkish republics in the former Soviet Union.

The second group consists of states who managed to preserve, keep and carry their countries national accumulation of knowledge and managed to collect them at the centres called "National Libraries". These are the countries like Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The First Group:

These are different groups of Turks living in Central Asia. They had possessed great culture and masterpieces through their history. The struggle for independence in these countries against Russia 's extension policy towards Central Asia and Caucasus after 1800's had continued for years. Thus their cultural development had been hindered and their libraries which had been functioning as Nation al Libraries for centuries had been ruined. These are all republics which were ruled by communism in Russia for 70 years, after 1920.

It is not actually possible to talk about a sound national accumulation of knowledge in an environment where any printing or publishing is under a strict control and pressure. Despite all these, in the five Turkish Republics that we listed above, it is possible to see a developed library structure with especially "Libraries of Science Academia" and "State Libraries". These have collections mos tly provided by their central government. Purchasing and exchange were all controlled by the communist regime. Although none of them was allowed to be named as "National Library", they had their na tional collections however, due to the prohibitions mentioned above, they included very rare samples of works reflecting their own language, religion, traditions, history and culture. They regularly published national bibliographies ensuring a bibliographic control, and still doing this.

After the year 1990, a rapid restructuring process has started in these newly established, separate and democratic countries. Libraries providing services of a national library under the name of sta te libraries are announced to be called "National Libraries".


It is a Turkish republic who gained its independence in 1990. The capital is Tashkent and it has a population of 19,906,000 living on a land of 4,447,400 km2.

The Tashkent Public Library established in 1870, has been enriched by materials in history, philosophy, etnographia and warship in 125 years. It has a collection of 5 million items however 90% of th em are in Russian language scripted in krill alphabet. It is also possible to see materials about Turkmenistan and other countries of 594 years in this collection. In 1991 it was renamed as "Ali &T HORN;ir Nasai Uzbekistan Turkish Library".

It has not got any constitution nor legal deposit act yet. They only can publish bibliographies about items existing in the library. They are not able to make use of advanced technology. They do n ot have any computers. They have 279 staff in the library 159 of whom have a librarianship education. It was not possible to acquire a reliable statistical report.


It is a Turkish republic founded in 1990 with a population of 4,500,000 living on a land of 488,000 km2. Its capital is Ashgabat.

In 1892, A.N. Kuropatkin, Russian Officer responsible for Caucasus, gave an order for a library to be opened in Ashgabat. The library started its services with 3000 granted books in Russian language on 5 May 1895. In 1917, Russian Government formally took Turkmenistan under control and the library collection was enriched by Russians.

In 1924, Turkmenistan Soviet Socialist Republic established the state library called 'Gosudarstvennaya Bibliotheka Turkmensoy SSR IM Karl Marx'.

Upon the ruins of the old building demolished by an earthquake in 1948, the famous architect of Turkmenistan A R Ahmedova constructed the new building of 18240 m2 being used at the moment. It is the most contemporary and largest library amongst the ones in Central Asian Republics. It contains 16 reading halls for 700 readers. Daily between 700 and 1250 users are served. It has 200 staff. Ac cording to the stock taking done in 1983, it has 4 million 300 publications. 90% of the collection is in Russian language and about Karl Marx, F. Engels and Lenin. The number of materials in Turkis h are very low. The number of items in 28 languages is not more than 100 thousand.

The collection includes a small number of rare books and manuscripts. The fate of the collections in the libraries on the silk road, which we mentioned above, is not known.

The library collects depository copies and publishes the national bibliography.

The previous name of the library 'Gosudarstvennaya Biblioteka Türkmenskoy SSR IM Karl Marx' was changed to "Turkmenistan National Library".

The number of all type of libraries in the country as for 1992 statistics is 2070. According to the same statistics, the number of published titles is 565 and the number of copies is 6,604,000.


The country announced its autonomy in 1990 and has a population of 4,650,420 living on a land of 198,500km2. Its capital is Bishkek.

The state public library founded as Gosudarstvennia Biblioteka Respublica Kyrgyzstan VI. Lenina is now serving with the name of Kyrgyzstan National Library. It was not possible to find formal record s about the collection of the library. However, according to the statistics of 1989, the number of all type of libraries in the country is 1860. I visited the national libraries of the other Turkis h Republics but not the Kyrgyzs National Library. This year the 1000th Anniversary of Manas, the great legend of Turks will be celebrated. Turkish National Library will participate in the celebrati ons with an exhibition that will be held at the Kyrgyzs National Library.


It is the largest Turkish Republic in the Central Asia with a population of 18,227,878 living on a land of 2,717,300 km2.

The Bibliotheque Respublika Kazakhstan IM. AS. Pushkina founded in 1923 in the capital Alma Ata is renamed as National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1990. Although it has a collection of over 6 million, the materials written in Kazakh language about its history and culture consist the minority.

They are in the process of automation. The library collects depository copies and publishes a national bibliography.

As for the 1992 statistics, the number of all type of libraries is 2100, the number of published titles is 1226 and number of copies is 30,512,000.


The country which was separated from Russia in 1990 has a population of 7,220,000 living on a land of 86,600 km2. The library located in Baku, called Gosudarstvennaya Respublikanskaya Biblioteka IM MF Ahundova, is now called Azerbaijan Ahundova National Library.

It has a large historical building which is very convenient. It has a collection of 4.5 million. According to the 1992 statistics, 30 school books were published in 2,374,000 copies, 64 children's book in 848,000 copies, 599 Turkish books and 23 books in other languages in 8,954,000 copies. So in total in 1992 716 books were published in 12,176,000 copies.

As a national Library it has not yet got any constitution or legal deposit act. With the arrangement of the Ministry of Culture's General Directorate of Libraries, the library collects national publ ications and publishes a national bibliography. The library is used very heavily.

As a conclusion we can say that national libraries of these countries:

  1. have a large collection, 90% of which is not in their language.

  2. have a cultural heritage of 1000 years but materials reflecting these are very rare in their collection. For example, in the National Libraries of these countries who accepted Islam religion lon g ago, there is no materials about Islam other than what they have provided just in the last 5 years.

  3. The number of users is high. Mostly researchers use the libraries.

  4. They have not become member of any international organisation. They have just subscribed to IFLA this year.

  5. Until 5 years ago, they had no uncontrolled and unlimited exchange with countries other than the ones being reigned by communism for 100 years.

  6. In general they lack legislation.

  7. They do not have the infrastructure which could enable them to enter IFLA Core programmes such as PAC, UBCIM and UDT.

Second Group

The national libraries of countries in this group have managed to accumulate their national information under their roof. They have been able to maintain continuity with their legislations. Let us have a look at them briefly:


As I have stated in details in the beginning of this paper the libraries founded in Bukhara and Samarkand in Ýran were replaced by Dar ül Funun University and Library founded in Tahran in 1852. After 1899 it was integrated with this and other libraries. The collection of this library was enlarged in the 1000th Anniversary year of Firdevsi and became the nucleus of the national libra ry. In 1937, within the Iran Bostan Museum the National Library was formally founded. Together with the selected materials from Royal Library, the library was moved to its new building in 1939. In 1968 it has started to collect depository copies with the new legal deposit act and in 1962 started to publish its national bibliography. It is a member of IFLA and COMLIS.

The collection includes 12,500 manuscripts. The total number of collection being books, periodicals, maps, slides and photographs is 323,520.

The National Library functions under the 5th article of the Iran Law.

The Council which constitutes of

  1. President of Islam Republic of Iran

  2. Ministry of Culture and Education

  3. Ministry of Culture

  4. Ministry of Islamic Culture

  5. 2 librarians, and authorities from Ministries of Education and Culture

prepares the required legislation. The Head of the National Library is appointed by the President for a period of 4 years.

According to the 1992 statistics, 5018 books were published in 17,383,000 copies. 7500 depository copies are collected per annum.


Iraq is a country, where many information centres like Ninova Clay Tablet Library founded in BC 4000 and reflecting a developed civilisation and culture are located. Most part of the historical heri tage is at the Iraq Museum Library. The National Library opened in 1924 has an invaluable manuscript collection. After it has moved to its new building in 1975, the legislation allowing it to be a modern national library were brought into force. These may be listed as collecting materials under the legal deposit act, international exchanges and publishing bibliographies and catalogues.


The 'Zahiriye National Library" in Damascus is the national library of the country. The library which was founded in 900 AD as a research library as mentioned above, became an academic library in 18 76. In 1880, Tahir al Jazari has collected 2453 manuscripts in this library. In 1927 it was reconverted to a "National Library". It serves as a public library as well. As from 1949, under a legis lation it has started to collect two state copies. It has a big microfilm and photographic studio. Until now, 50% of manuscripts were microfilmed. The collection of the library is 127,000 items. 11,504 of them are manuscripts.


The National Library's formation and functioning is very different than that of the countries stated above since it has not been built upon an already existing collection.

All the libraries that were founded from the date that Turks settled in Anatolia (AD 1071)in 924 years, have reached today with their collections entact. The main reason for that is that many of the m are 'Foundation Libraries'. Since the amendment or cancellation of foundation documents prepared in the light of the canon jurisprudence of Islam and hadith of Mohammed is forbidden, these librari es stayed alive. In these Vakfiye's that could be seen in almost every district of Ýstanbul and other cities, there are more than 500,000 manuscripts. These are all about Turkish culture. A lthough the state libraries founded after the eighteenth century has taken materials from abroad, they do not totally confer with the description of a national library.

Atatürk , the founder of the Turkish Republic, had established the 'National Library Foundation' and a library within it in Ýzmir before 1933 in the traditional way. In 1927 under a legi slation the Latin alphabet started to be used instead of Arabic script which gave a rise to a change in all the written and published items in the country. In 1937 the Legal Deposit Law came into f orce. Due to these changes it was accepted that the modern Turkey should have an independent and contemporary National Library different than the other libraries and in 1946 a National Library was f ounded, and started from scratch. In 1950 its constitution law was passed and it has gained a legal status. This law includes every feature of the description for National library accepted all arou nd the world in 1970. It has become a member of IFLA in 1952, FID in 1954 and COMLIS in 1990. It serves as the middle east depository library for international organisations like UN, UNESCO, FAO, O ECD.

It moved to its new building in 1983. The new building which has an area of 50,000m2 in use has been built according to modern library architecture and has utilised advanced technology. There are 1 120 user seats in 5 different reading halls.

Since time will not allow to explain all the functions of the Turkish National Library being the largest one in Middle East and Balkans, let us have a look at the main points.

After a decree of Ministry of Culture in 1991, some manuscripts in different Museum and Public libraries has been started to be transferred to the National Library.

On 18 October 1993, the 'National Library Computer Centre' was opened. 75% of the collection was transferred to the magnetic medium. During the automation of the catalogue, UNIMARC, Anglo American Cataloguing Rules II ed., Dewey Decimal Classification 20th ed. (this has been translated into Turkish in 4 volumes) and Library Congress Subject Headings were used. In 1994 it was directly connecte d to the INTERNET. Thus with its Digital VAX 6610 computer system, it is within a computer network of 5000 linking 2 million computers in 110 countries.

The CD ROM service founded in 1989 consists of ERIC, Bookbank, Oxford Dictionary, PC SIG, Sociofile, Medline, International Statistical Year Book on CD ROM, Social Science Citation Index, Newspaper Abstracts on Disk (UMI) and Environmental Library.

It has access to Data Star, Blaise Line, BRS, OCLC and STN (JICST) databases since 1990 to allow national library users reach universal information in a more efficient way.

According to the 1994 statistics there are 1,179,367 recorded items 95% of which are in Turkish and related to Turkish culture. This figure does not include the UN, UNESCO, FAO and OECD donations.

There are 19,797 manuscripts added to the National Library collection through purchasing or donation.

It has a music laboratory, microfilm and photographic studio, a talking library specially designed for visually defected people and a computer system within its body. In 1993 a printhouse was founde d with high technology which has an annual print capacity of ... million sheets.

It publishes three different national bibliographies covering published items in Turkey since 1928. It still works on the union catalogue of manuscripts in Turkey. According to the 1992 statistics, 6549 items were published in ........ copies and the acquisitions as for 1994 is ........

The National Library of Turkey is managed by a President. The President is appointed by the President of the country through Prime Minister's and Cultural Minister's suggestions. It prepares its ow n development projects and carry them out with an independent budget. It organises training programmes with the Ministry of Culture. It accepts practising students from faculties and other organisa tions.

Since the day of its foundation, the Turkish National Library has a co operation and exchange with these countries. In addition, in 1994 it has granted 4280 books.

Under the light of these information we can say that:

  1. Although there has been library services and accumulation of knowledge in the Middle East and Central Asia for more than 4000 years, the national libraries are not older than 50 years.

  2. While national libraries of the western world operates in close co operation under the umbrella of IFLA, CDNL and CENL, the libraries mentioned above have almost no relations amongst themselves and with the west.

  3. They need time to take place in a possible network.

I believe that all national libraries should be in close contact in the future. The national knowledge of countries should also become universally accessable. There should not be any missing link in national libraries chain. The information used to be carried through SILK ROAD in ancient times should now be carried by the networks amongst libraries on the information super highway in the fut ure.


  1. Godfrey Burston. "National Libraries and Analysis" International Library Review 5, (April 1973) 184 191. P
  2. Voronitoin "Sovyet Türkistanýnda Okul ve Bilim" Periodical No 57.57 (1969) s.
  3. Report on the USSR, 1991
  4. Published quarterly by the Turkish Librarians association
  5. Islam Encyclopaedia,
  6. Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Science
  7. Statistical year book 1994 UNESCO
  8. Prof. Dr. Mehmet Saray, "Yeni Türk Cumhuriyetleri Tarih Serisi 1 7"