Azerbaijan International

Summer 2000 (8.2)
Pages 64-67

Meet Me at the Akhundov
Baku's Biggest Library Still Draws a Crowd

by Leyla Gafurova, Director

Statues in the Archways - Akhundov National Library

Akhundov Library - Baku

If you want to get a feel for Azerbaijanis' attitude toward literature and education, just pay a visit to the Akhundov Library in Baku. Outside you'll find statues of beloved poets; inside you'll find reading rooms quite packed. It's especially refreshing to see that Azerbaijan's largest library is popular with both younger and older generations. For a close-up look at the library, we talked with Leyla Gafurova, who has worked at the Akhundov for the past 40 years and is now its Director.

Akhundov Library - Interior Entrance

Above: Main stairway entrance of the Akhundov National Library designed by Architect Mikayil Useynov, completed in 1959. Photo: Blair

The Akhundov Library is Azerbaijan's largest library. As the National Library, it plays a vital role in protecting our national literature. In total, we have about 4.5 million items, including books and printed materials, newspapers, maps, dissertations and records. We also house major resources and references for scientists and historians. For instance, we're the only library that has microfilm and photos of newspapers published in Azerbaijan before the Bolshevik Revolution (1920). We also have copies of all the newspapers published during the Soviet period.

Amoco Study Room in Akhundov Library

Above: The Amoco Technical Reading Room dedicated to Oilman Gurban Abbasov and Amoco President Robert L. Blanton. Renovated in 1994 by Amoco.

New Alphabet, New Library

Earlier this century, there was no major library in our country. This particular library officially opened May 23, 1923 and was first known as the General Library and State Book Storage of Azerbaijan. That was the same year that Azerbaijan officially adopted the Latin alphabet as its second official national script along with the Arabic alphabet. At that time, the library was located inside what is now the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences.

Study Rooms in Akhundov Library

Above: Inside the readings rooms of Akhundov National Library. Books are not permitted to be taken from the library.

On July 11, 1939 [at the height of Stalin's Repressions], the library was renamed after Mirza Fatali Akhundov (1812-1878), a writer who is credited with starting the theater tradition in Azerbaijan in the mid-19th century. Akhundov was also very active in alphabet reform and tried to modify the Arabic script so that it would adequately reflect the sound system of Azeri. When Arabic script reform did not catch on, Akhundov went on to propose a Latin-Cyrillic based alphabet to replace Arabic. His recommended script was never adopted but it helped set the wheels in motion for us to eventually adopt the Latin alphabet that we have today [See "
Mirza Fatali Akhundov, Alphabet Reformer Before His Time" by Farid Alakbarov, AI 8.1, Spring 2000, page 53].

Card Catalog System - Akhundov Library - Baku

Above: Card catalogs still provide the main index to the library's collection. Hopefully, in the not-to-distant future, the system can be computerized. Complicating the issue is that books in Azeri are written in three different scripts - Arabic, Cyrillic and Latin.

In 1959, this building was finished and we moved in. Its location is prime - not only in terms of being in the center of the city but also from a cultural point of view. Next to it on Khagani Street, there's the National Opera and Ballet Theater, which is across from the Theater of Young Spectators. The entrance to the library overlooks a garden park. We are also close to various institutes, including the National Pedagogical Institute, the Music Academy, the Institute of Foreign Languages and the Oil Academy.

Here at the Akhundov, we have tried to gather every possible text that is written in the Azeri language. According to the Law on Library, we receive four copies of all new books and two copies of all magazines and newspapers that are published in Azerbaijan.

During the Soviet Period, we were also required to gather copies of all books published in Russian in the Soviet Union. We received these for free - close to 110,000 new publications (books, newspapers and magazines) each year. At that time, all of the major libraries in the Soviet Union were like duplicates of each other. They all had the same assortment of books with the exception that each Republic had its own separate national collection as well.

We also exchanged books with other Republics, mostly with Russia. We used to send books published in Azeri to the former Lenin Library in Moscow, and they sent us books in exchange. This tradition still continues, but these days we receive fewer and fewer books. Two to three times a year, one of our staff goes to Moscow and chooses titles that we want. Once he brought back 1,000 publications; another time, 4,000. We are eager to get books in fields like management, economics, politics and law.

During the Soviet Period, it was difficult to exchange books with foreign countries. In 1962, we finally were granted permission to create exchange ties with the National French Library. We were only able to send them books that the KGB approved. We also have had good relations with the U.S. Library of Congress. When the Soviet Union collapsed, they were the first library to send representatives to build relations with us again.

Today we receive books from other countries, but we don't have money to buy as many books as we would like. Sometimes Soros Foundation and other organizations sponsor publishing projects. Exxon has published books like the 5-volume "Children's Encyclopedia" and the English-Azerbaijani dictionary (Cyrillic and Latin versions).

We also receive publications from the Organization for the Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE), the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and various embassies in Azerbaijan. For example, the Italian Embassy donated 240 books a few years ago. We also receive many books from the French and Israeli embassies.

In addition, we receive books and newspapers in the Persian language from the Cultural Center of the Iranian Embassy. During the Soviet Period, we were not allowed to receive any books from Iran or Turkey.

Striking Architecture
While most people visit the Akhundov Library for its extensive collection of materials, some come to see its fascinating architecture. Actually, this is one of the most interesting classic-style buildings designed by Mikayil Useynov. [For more information on Useynov, see "
The Soviet Period of Architecture in Azerbaijan: The Twists and Turns of the Career of Mikayil Useynov (1905-1992)" by Ilham Aliyev, in AI 6.4, Winter 1998, page 46.] This building fuses 20th-century architectural elements with Azerbaijan's rich traditional styles. You can see this particularly in the use of arches and columns and in the balcony porticos, which feature statues of our most distinguished writers and cultural figures.

Reading Rooms
The Akhundov is a very busy library. Often, its 13 reading rooms are filled with students and other visitors. Unfortunately, over the years, some of these rooms have become quite run down. Amoco was one of the first companies to respond to our request for help; it helped us refurbish the hall of Foreign Literature in 1995. Another reading room, sponsored by the Turkish Embassy (1998), is dedicated to newspapers and magazines. In addition, the Iranian Embassy has sponsored an Exhibition Hall (1997).

The Amoco Technical Reading Room is named after Gurban Abbasov and Robert L. Blanton. Abbasov became a legendary figure in Azerbaijan's oil industry after the development of Oil Rocks, the world's first offshore drilling project, in 1949. Robert L. Blanton was President of Amoco Caspian Sea Petroleum when Amoco became established in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Both were present at the opening library ceremonies in Baku in 1994.

This hall contains computers and software to catalog and track new materials along with more than 350 books and hundreds of English-language journals from Blanton's personal library. These texts cover instrumentation, geology, geophysics, engineering, safety and fire protection.

We don't permit books to be checked out or for people to take them home; they have to read them at the library. The process is as follows: Patrons search for a book in the card catalog, then write down the book's title and call number. A librarian goes to look for the book in the collection, which may take about 30 minutes. Requests can be made for librarians to reserve the books for the following day.

Rare Books
The Akhundov has a unique collection of historical works, called the "Azerbaijan Book" section. It includes approximately 72,000 volumes and microfilms kept of everything that we have succeeded in collecting that has been published in Azeri, regardless of time, place or alphabet.

Titles include "Divan" by Fuzuli (Tabriz, 1849), "Divan" by Ajiz (Tabriz, 1857), "Tamsilat" by Akhundov (Tiflis, 1859), an Azeri translation of Shakespeare's "Othello" (Baku, 1893) and "First Winemaker" by Leo Tolstoy (Baku, 1896). There is also a fine collection of issues from the satirical magazine "Molla Nasraddin" (1906-1932).

All rare books are kept in storage in the "Azerbaijan Book" section. Scholars who are doing research or writing dissertations can come and use the books, but of course cannot take them home.

Musical Scores
In our music section, there are approximately 175,000 items including musical scores, books, magazines and journals related to music. For listening, we have vinyl discs and tapes.

Foreign Collection
We also have a department of foreign literature where readers can find books, newspapers and magazines in foreign languages. There are about 313,900 books in English, French, German, Turkish, Persian, Spanish and other languages.

The Foreign Collection contains treasures like "Dada Gorgud" in English translation (London, 1972). Nizami's poems are also featured in translation, including "Khosrov and Shirin" in French (Paris, 1970) and "Seven Beauties" (Yeddi Gozal) in Italian (Milan, 1967).

Recent Events
Presentations and meetings are usually held in the Exhibition Hall. The latest exhibition was devoted to the 1,300th Jubilee of Dada Gorgud on April 7, 2000. The exhibition featured literature about Dada Gorgud, including a two-volume encyclopedia about the Turkic epic, an enormous project that was edited by Anar, President of Azerbaijan's Writers' Union.

The first volume of the encyclopedia includes the versions of the Dada Gorgud manuscripts that are kept in Dresden and the Vatican. The second volume covers exhibits related to Dada Gorgud that are found in Azerbaijani museums. This encyclopedia was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Academy of Sciences, the Writers' Union and the Ministry of Education.

Several other books were on display during the exhibition. They included "Dada Gorgud Dunyasi" (The World of Dada Gorgud) by Anar as well as V. Bartold's second edition of "My Grandfather Gorgud's Book", written in Russian.

On February 9th this year, LUKOIL and the Soros Foundation presented the library with 400 books, covering various subjects such as science, law, philosophy, economics and history. All of the books were published in Moscow.

Internet Access
In late May we plan to have the opening ceremony of the library's Internet Unity section. This project is being implemented by the Eurasian Fund. This section will have seven computers connected to Internet so that Azerbaijani readers can gain access to world databases.

We're dreaming of the day when we will be able to computerize our card catalog, as this would be a tremendous boost to research and save time for those who spend hours looking for sources in card catalogs.

Akhundov Library
29 Khagani Street, close to the Sahil Metro Station
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Leyla Gafurova is the Director of the National Akhundov Library in Baku. For her concerns about the new Latin alphabet, see "On the Street: Viewpoints about Alphabet Transition", AI 8.1, Spring 2000, page 27. Gafurova was interviewed by Farida Sadikhova.

Azerbaijan International (8.2) Summer 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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