As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts
Jerusalem Conference logo

66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 124-176(WS)-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Reading: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 176
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No  

Library-based programs to promote literacy: do they exist in Azerbaijan?

Muzhgan Nazarova
Public Affairs Section (PAS)
American EmbassyBaku,


As a non-native speaker of English, before starting to write this paper I decided to look up for a definition of literacy in the Webster's New England Dictionary. It says: " Literacy - the state or quality of being literate:
  • ability to read and write
  • knowledgeability or capability (i.e. computer literacy)" That definition helped me to make sure that when we speak about promotion of literacy we do not only mean teaching the alphabet and how to read and write, we also speak about special skills and abilities to read efficiently, the special techniques of reading and a process of selecting what to read as well.

    Promotion means encouragement and "libraries continue the concentration on promoting the enjoyment and social benefits of reading. They continue to tell people they should read, and read more, but they are not focusing on assisting people to learn how to read" (Gibbs: 1990). Another important aspect of promotion of literacy is to teach how to read efficiently and be able to apply knowledge obtained from reading. Routman suggests that we need to think of literacy in terms that emphasize interpretation, evaluation, analysis and application of knowledge. (Routman: 1996)

    Linda Marie Golian and Rita Pellen give the following definition of literacy: "Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute and communicate orally a set of skills that allow a full participation in today's society" (Golian, Pellen: 1994). Speaking about the skills which are necessary to function effectively in today's society it is important to mention that even though we live in information age when information and computer literacy is much more important than just good reading skills, our information literacy is based on the literacy skills that we have developed at our early age. Advanced reading and writing skills are basic to all education and help us to develop critical thinking and computer skills quite successfully. A role of libraries and library-based programs in developing the above mentioned skills has always been tremendous.

    Even though the library-based programs on promotion literacy are very similar and have the common goals in different countries of the world, the types of the programs and their structure can be quite different depending on a country. The goals of promoting literacy can also vary depending on the political and social environment in the country. Certain factors also influence the success of these programs or their failure sometimes. Literacy concerns of different countries can also differ at various stages of their historical development depending on social, economical and even political conditions.

    Azerbaijan is the country where a level of literacy of population and a scope and objectives of the library-based literacy promotion programs have been dramatically influenced by the social, economical and political factors. A level of literacy in this country has been generally considered extremely high due to compulsory schooling and quite successful library-based literacy promotion programs. But there have been many changes in a literacy level of a population of Azerbaijan for the past 10-12 years as well as in the library-based literacy promotion programs.

    The objective of this paper is to provide the information about the literacy promotion programs in Azerbaijan at different time periods.

    A Republic of Azerbaijan and Libraries

    The Republic of Azerbaijan - a country lying at the crossroads between Europe, Asia and Middle East and bordering Russia and Georgia to the North, Iran and Turkey to the South, Armenia to the West, and Caspian Sea to the East was founded in 1918, then joined the Soviet Union and was a part of it until it gained its independence in 1991. Since 1994 Azerbaijan has become well-known all over the world for its oil and energy reserves and entered the partnership with the world leading oil companies.

    The history of libraries in Azerbaijan goes back to the thirteenth century when a first library of more than 400,000 volumes was founded by Nasreddin Tusi - a great thinker and scientist of that period. The most ancient manuscripts of the Azerbaijani language go back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Divans of Hadji Burkhannadin and Nasimi, and Dede Gorgud) (Nazarova:1998).

    At present a total number of the libraries in Azerbaijan (with a population of around 8 million citizens) is 9,548 with a collection of 118.900.000 items which is almost 4 times higher as compared to the year of 1994. Around 30,000 professional librarians and technical staff work in these libraries (See Appendix 1). There are 4,283 public libraries in Azerbaijan which have been involved in the literacy promotion programs for quite a long time.

    The American Library Association (ALA) describes a role libraries in promotion literacy "Libraries are sensible and appropriate advocates for literacy, with their existence dependent upon a literate society. It is only logical that their role in adult literacy education will continue to strengthen and grow. All libraries, whether public, academic, corporate, special, or school, can and should, participate".

    Public libraries have always played an important role in promoting literacy and these days the importance of information literacy keeps growing: "it is the role of public libraries not only to provide access to the networked information but to teach people how to get the most value from it and be discerning in the use of the information that they access ie to facilitate their information literacy, which may be defined as recognizing the need for information, and then identifying, locating, accessing, evaluating and applying the needed information". (Poustie: 1999).

    The role of public libraries of Azerbaijan in promotion literacy among population has been tremendous. Functioning in a literate society where a special culture of reading and treatment of books have developed, the reading promotion programs have also been a priority in the activities of Azerbaijani libraries and were mostly based on a Soviet system.

    The literacy promotion programs in Azerbaijan as well as most of the countries of the former Soviet Union have been considered as a mass work of the libraries which includes a combination of the methods and forms of a book promotion aimed at a simulataneous coverage of a big number of library patrons or groups of population.

    The following types of mass work based on a Soviet model have existed in the Azerbaijani libraries: Visual promotion:

    • Book exhibits (permanent and temporary; within and outside the libraries)
      • new acquisitions;
      • thematic
      • devoted to the actual problems of the period and covering different sides of politics, economics, science, technology and culture;
      • supporting a teaching process;
      • devoted to special dates;
      • devoted to the lives and works of the famous and extraordinary personalities;
      • devoted to different literary genres;
    • book posters:
      • promotional;
      • for propaganda
    Oral promotion:
    • reading aloud;
    • bibliographic reviews:
      • thematic;
      • universal
    • thematic nights:
      • literary;
      • literary-musical;
      • book nights;
      • literacy and reading promotion nights;
      • questions and answers session
    • book discussions
    Throughout a historical development the new types of a literacy-promotion programs have emerged in Azerbaijan substituting some of the old traditional ones. And the goals and types of those programs have changed accordingly.

    History of the Library-Based Programs on Promotion Literacy in Azerbaijan

    As I mentioned above, the library-based programs for promotion literacy have a long history in Azerbaijan and they first appeared, like in all the other countries of the former Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in 1930-s as a follow-up and continuation of the events associated with a "cultural revolution". These programs aimed at eliminating illiteracy and increasing a level of literacy were considered of great importance during those years. The main tasks of the libraries were to work with the patrons - mostly workers and peasants on eliminating illiteracy and promoting literacy and developing reading skills. The special desks serving the needs of the illiterate people have been opened in many libraries and the special groups have been organized. There were even special sections in the libraries with the easy-to-read script and easy-content books for the people with low literacy skills. The following methods of promotion literacy and developing reading skills have been used: reading aloud, book exhibits, book days, book posters etc. As compared to a year of 1933 when only 50,9% of population of Azerbaijan was literate, in 1937 as a result of those programs a level of literacy increased to 73,3%. In 1941 100% per cent of population was literate in terms of being able to read and write.

    It is important to mention that all literacy promotion programs carried out by Azerbaijani libraries as well as in all the former USSR countries in different periods of its history were associated with propaganda of different ideologies and ideas and expressed the interests of the government and leading parties.

    During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) the work on promotion literacy was still going on and was mainly concentrated on promotion of patriotism and the ways of defeating the enemy. The following activities as a part of reading promotion were conducted in the Azerbaijani libraries during those years: special lectures on patriotism and the war-related topics, reading aloud the orders of the defense committee and the news from a front line, meetings with the war participants, exhibits of books about the war.

    Since the War ended in 1945 the programs on promotion literacy in libraries have been mainly concentrated on praising the victory and heroism of the Soviet people. The new activities on promotion literacy have emerged: the talks, discussion forums, reader's conferences, and the meetings with outstanding personalities, bibliographies. Unlike the previous years when the librarians were mostly working on the programs themselves, different outstanding scholars, researchers and writers have been invited to participate in these programs.

    In 1948 a task on promotion literacy among the oil industry workers has been put forward by the Azerbaijani Government. The programs on promotion the books on oil business and industry have been organized at the libraries include book exhibits, conferences, and discussion forums. Several mobile libraries were organized to answer the needs of the oilmen working in the fields. This campaign on promotion the literacy of the oil workers has been one of the successful ones in the whole history of Azerbaijani librarianship and it has influenced the increase of intellectual potential of those workers which resulted in increasing the capacity of the oil industry which is still considered a leading one in the country as well as all over the world.

    In 1950-1960-s the new types of literacy promotion programs emerged in Azerbaijan. The special events on meeting the outstanding representatives in the fields of art, literature, history, music etc were organized in the libraries. Special lectureships and "culture universities" aimed at a promotion reading in different fields of knowledge were organized in the libraries. Since the late 60-s the library-based literacy promotion programs in Azerbaijan have become one of the priority areas of development of the Azerbaijani libraries and were conducted in three different directions:

    • aimed at a literacy promotion among the youth through their educational institutions (kindergartens; elementary, middle and high schools; colleges; universities etc.)
    • working with the elder population through cooperation with the housing departments;
    • providing service and promoting literacy to the military personnel by organizing the field trips to the outposts
    This work has been done mostly by the public libraries having a specially trained and qualified personnel. A special part of the library budgets was devoted to the literacy promotion programs including literary evenings, book exhibits, book discussions, readers' conferences, reading aloud etc.

    Changes Taking Place

    Many changes have taken place in the Azerbaijani libraries as well as in the programs on literacy promotion since 1990. All these changes have been closely associated with the economical, political and social changes in the country. In a transformation period to market economy in Azerbaijan no funds in the library budgets have been allocated for the literacy and reading promotion programs.

    A certain decrease of a level of literacy of a population of Azerbaijan, especially its capital Baku has been observed for the past 10 years because of the following reasons:

    • migration of about 1 million of Azeri refugees and displaced persons with a very low level of literacy from Armenia (mainly a rural population) to Azerbaijan as a result of a Nagorno Karabakh ethnic conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia;
    • a high level of immigration of the citizens of Azerbaijan to the US, Canada, Germany and other Western countries;
    • the literate people who have been the main patrons in the libraries not having enough time to attend the libraries as a result of their economical and social conditions;
    • the collections of the libraries not up-to-dated ;
    • lack of automation and computerization in the libraries
    The biggest difficulty in promoting reading in Azerbaijan is that the alphabet has been changed four times during the last century:
    • In 1923 a Latin alphabet was adopted and existed along with Arabic;
    • 1929 when Arabic was completely banned;
    • In 1939 a Latin alphabet was changed to Cyrillic;
    • In 1991 a Cyrillic alphabet was changed back to Latin
    "None of those alphabet changes has truly been successful in terms of enabling younger generations to access the knowledge acquired by its older members in society. Each time the alphabet was changed, the younger generation was left orphaned, alone on its own to scrounge around as best it could to search of the repository of national, cultural, and historical knowledge"(Blair:1990)

    For many Azeris who were born after 1939 a return back to Latin since 1991 has created certain difficulties. They have never learned to read and write in Latin script whereas their children and grandchildren are already used to Latin. The problem is that very few books are published in Latin script these days even though it is an official alphabet. Most of the library collections in Azerbaijan are either in Russian language or Azeri Cyrillic, and a very low percentage is in Latin Azeri. Even though the Azerbaijani language has been declared as the State language in Azerbaijan's Constitution in 1995, the Russian language books are still in heavy use because of lack of appropriate resources in Azeri. That is why the programs on promotion reading in native language are so important in Azerbaijan.

    While a literacy concern has been widespread in the US during the last decades and "in 1990 adult literacy and lifelong learning became one of the eight "National Education Goals for the year 2000" in the United States" (Bishop; Larimer:1999), a question of a promotion of literacy has never been raised up to a government level in Azerbaijan and a special program on literacy promotion in the libraries has not been developed since 90-s.

    Even though the public libraries of Azerbaijan have found themselves in quite a difficult situation (lack of funds, low salaries of librarians, no automation, and absence of modern technologies etc), they have been continuing their literacy promotion programs using the scare resources and cooperating with different organizations. The most popular programs carried out for the last years are mainly thematic book exhibits and book presentations devoted to the special dates and personalities, carried out in cooperation with foreign embassies and local authorities. The readers' conferences and forums, meetings with popular authors have also remained a popular type of book promotion in Azeri libraries.

    At the same time the new forms of literacy such as foreign language, computer and information literacy have emerged. Knowledge of a foreign language and information technology has become an important factor of effective functioning in Azerbaijan. The new job opportunities have opened to Azeris because of the Western companies and foreign embassies have opened their offices in Azerbaijan since the country gained its independence and the multi-dollar oil contracts have been signed with the government of Azerbaijan. (Nazarova: 1998)

    Realizing that there is a great need in developing the foreign language and information technology skills certain efforts have been undertaken by the Azeri libraries in promoting. those skills. Some of the libraries have started to go along with the modern trend and base their programs on learning English and promote a literacy in foreign language. They can't think about promoting a computer literacy yet because very few libraries in the whole country are computerized.

    In announcing a "national call to Action" April 4 to address the "digital divide" between computer haves and have-nots, president Clinton cited ALA's efforts to promote information literacy. The President called on companies and nonprofit organizations to help bring digital opportunity to youth, families, and communities around the country (American Libraries: 2000) There are certain trends indicating the importance of information literacy in today's Azerbaijani society as well. The librarians and the libraries in this country do hope that in the nearest future they would also be able to have the information literacy as a priority in their literacy promotion programs. There is still a long way to go but these hopes would eventually come true (Nazarova: 1999)

    Literacy Promotion Programs Existing in Today's Azerbaijan

    Even though a special part of the public libraries' budget has always been allocated on promotion of literacy until early 90-s, the today programs are organized either based on the scare local funds of the libraries or on the grants from foreign organizations. There have been several interesting library-based programs on promotion the literacy in Azerbaijan and I would like to describe some of the successful ones:

    1. Megaproject "Pushkin Library" organized and financed by the Russian Division of the Open Society institute (OSI) The aim of this project has been to support the Russian culture and promote the new stimulus for a development of libraries, book publishing and book distribution. It has been supposed to provide the libraries of Russia and other countries of CIS, Eastern Europe and Mongolia with the new editions during the three years. The idea of this megaproject originated in 1997 when Mr.George Soros participated in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the activities of his foundation in Russia. While visiting different regions of Russia, Mr. Soros realized that in Russia where the libraries are part of everyone's life and the unique source of information, there is a big need in developing the library collections. Even though there are several areas that this project is concentrated on like: creating the contacts with the Russian book publishers, collection and analysis of bibliographic information, selection and evaluation of the new publications, implementation and development of the new bibliographic and library technologies etc., the most important part of this project is that the new editions of the books in different fields of knowledge including Childrens' literature and the pearls of the World literature are being published and distributed to the libraries which contributes to the development of reading and literacy promotion. Different projects are the parts of this megaproject: creation of the "Reading Centers" aimed at promotion of reading and based at a Library of Congress experience, the competition named "Open Libraries" based on a role of libraries in building community, children's contests "I Like to Read" etc.

      Fourteen libraries have participated in this project which have resulted in a very successful literacy-promotion programs which have started with the presentations of the books, book exhibits, reader's conferences and discussions and different interesting programs like "Reading Aloud", "Literary Programs" etc.

      The launching of Pushkin project has served as a revival of reading-promotion programs in Azerbaijani libraries. The sustainability of this project was quaranteed because the libraries were aware about the conditions of the project from the very beginning (they were supposed to pay 25% the first year, 50%-the second, and 75%-the third). Being motivated to participate in this project and add the high quality published books on the subjects needed to their collections, the libraries have found the funds for being a part of this project in Azerbaijan. The strength of this project is that most of the books purchased have been used in literacy-promotion programs and also gave some ideas to start a similar project on publishing books in Azerbaijan. As a result of this project both the patrons and librarians have had a chance to get an access to such a variety of high quality published books.

    2. The projects by a TUTU Children's Cultural Center of Azerbaijan TUTU Children's Cultural Center - a non governmental organization (NGO) of Azerbaijan was founded three years ago and decided to fill in the gap of a lack of children's books published in Azeri Latin. "For the kids who have grown up only studying in Azeri Latin, there is no information source except for the books they study at school"(Blair:2000). This situation is very critical for the kids living in refugee camps. Those kids have been displaced from their native lands as a result of a Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

      During the last 3 years 300,000 copies of 35 book titles have been published by TUTU. One of the books is titled: "Fairy Tales of the World's Peoples", a series of 16 books that contains German, Chinese, Escimo, Swedish, Indian, Scottish, French, American, Azerbaijani and other fairy tales.

      The presentations of the newly published books accompanied by book exhibits and children's programs have taken place in the main children's libraries of the country.

      TUTU does not limit its activities only to publishing of colorful nice quality children's books it is also actively involved in developing the reading and literacy promotion programs. It has been a part of a mobile library project sponsored by the United Nations High Commission on refugees (UNHCR) and Relief International. A TUTU mobile library goes to a refugee camp every week. Different programs like reading aloud, games with the kids, letter writing have been organized by TUTU.

      In addition to the above mentioned activities TUTU has created a penpal system for the kids in the refugee camps so that the young refugee children could correspond with the imaginary parrot (TUTU means parrot in Azeri) and develop their writing skills.

      "The TUTU letter project has started with the funding from UNOCAL for a few computers, office supplies, stationery and envelopes. TUTU sends personalized typed letters back to the children in envelops printed with the parrot's picture along with several sheets of yellow paper so they can write TUTU back again. The bright paper and envelops provide great incentive for the children to use their best handwriting and to be neat" (Sadikhova:2000).

      Thanks to a mobile library and the reading hours the kids started to get interested in reading and to write the stories about what they read in their letters. The contacts have also been created with the local libraries in the regions where the camps are located with the future plans of developing literacy-promotion programs.

      The main factors which made TUTU projects successful are a great motivation of the staff consisting of teachers, librarians and art designers who have undergone a special training and a great desire of the kids to learn and to read. The sustainability of the program will be supported by the Baku public libraries in their joint efforts with the local libraries in the regions.

    3. "The World of Fairy Tales" organized by the city public library and sponsored by the OSI-Azerbaijan: The Baku Children's library named after Seid-zade is one of the leading libraries in the city providing a service to the children of Baku. One of the main activities of this library has always been promotion of reading. It has worked closely with the schools and school libraries on organizing special events and activities dedicated to the outstanding writers and poets and aimed at promotion of reading. The library has also organized "Working on homework assignments" program together with the schoolteachers in the library. Because of the certain financial difficulties the library could not equip a "reading aloud" corner for a long time and thanks to the OSI funding, they managed to organize a room called "The World of Fairy Tales" which have been equipped and decorated and different programs are taking place in this room. The Seid-zade library is first children's library, which will have multimedia computer programs on developing reading and writing skills. This children's library is organizing the "alphabet day" every year and the kids who have just learned the alphabet and started to read are the participants of this program. The Seid-zade library has the best collection of children's and reference books in the city and partially functions' as a media center of the schoolchildren of Baku. Most of the achievements of the library are based on a high qualification and motivation of the library staff members.


    I hope I was able to answer the question put forward in my paper. It is almost impossible to limit all my thoughts about the Azerbaijani libraries including the literacy programs to one paper.

    As you can see from it the library-based programs to promote literacy have existed in my country for quite a long time and their types and aims are almost the same as in the other countries. The big difference is that these programs have existed and developed in quite different conditions, but they always have reached their goals. I am proud to say that my nation is very literate. In spite of all the difficulties we have encountered the people are still motivated to learn and they are highly educated. I appreciate all the efforts and hard work of the Azerbaijani librarians who have been worked so hard to promote literacy in this country and have achieved the very good results. There is still a long way to go and everything depends on how soon the libraries in Azerbaijan will reach the international standards.


    Bishop,Kay, Larimer, Nancy. Literacy Through Collaboration. Teacher Librarian. 1999, 27(1), 15-21.

    Blair, Betty. Alphabet and Language in Transition. Azerbaijan International. Spring 2000, 10-12.

    Clinton, in "Digital Divide" Speech, Cites ALA efforts on Information Literacy. American Libraries. May 2000, 31(5), 3.

    Gibbs, Ross. Libraries and Literacy: The role of Australian public libraries. APLIS. 1990, 3(3), 123-129

    Golian, Linda Marie, Pellen, Rita. (1994) Women, literacy and libraries.-Convergence. 27 (2-3),156-166.

    Halafov A.A. Azerbaijanda Kitabxana Ishinin Tarixi (The History of Librarianship in Azerbaijan). Baku: Azerneshr, 1974

    Nazarova, Muzhgan (1998) Libraries in Azerbaijan: Reaching Forward in K. de la Pena McCook, B.Ford, K. Lippincott (Ed.), Libraries: Local Touch-Global Reach. Chicago and London: ALA, 1998, 82-89

    Nazarova, Muzhgan (1998) Cultural Difference in Libraries: US-Azerbaijan. URL: http://www.ala.org/work/international/intlpprs/nazarova.html (A Paper presented at ALA 1998 Annual Conference, June 25-July 1, Washington, DC)

    Nazarova, Muzhgan (1999) Access to Information in Azerbaijan. URL: http://www.ala.org/work/international/intlpprs/nazarova1.html ( A paper presented at ALA 1999 Annual Conference, June 25th-July 2nd, New Orleans, LA)

    Poustie, Kay. Educating for information literacy through the Internet: another role of the public library. (1999). APLIS. 12(12). 60-69.

    Rabota s Chitatelyami (Working with Patrons). Saxarov V.F. (ed.) Moscow: Kniga, 1970.

    Routman, R. (1996) Literacy at the crossroads: Crucial talk about reading, writing, and other teaching dilemmas. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.

    Sadikhova, Farida. You Won't Forget Me, Will you, Tutu? A Parrot Connects Refugee Kids to the Outside World. Azerbaijan International. Spring 2000. 46-48.

    Appendix 1

    Number of Libraries in Azerbaijan during Different Periods

    Years Total Number of
    Number of Items in
    1934 2037 4.485.907
    1946 1499 4.000.000
    1949 2846 7.000.000
    1950 2290 4.403.200
    1955 2394 9.614.200
    1958 5776 20.000.000
    2000 9548 118.000.000

  • *    

    Latest Revision: May 7, 2000 Copyright © 1995-2000
    International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions