Digital Libraries in Turkey
Who wants to talk to the grumpy librarian?
Libraries in Turkey have an image problem. Nilay Cevher reflects on the current situation of literacy, reading and libaries in her country - and looks at what needs to be improved.
By Nilay Cevher
Dark, silent and gloomy places with an old, grumpy librarian: this is still the image most people have in their minds when thinking about libraries in Turkey.
Reading and education are the milestones of a society. Every other part of a country such as politics, economics, production, level of welfare, level of happiness etc. depend on them.
The current situation for literacy, reading culture and libraries in Turkey dates back to Ottoman times. During the Ottoman Empire, the public largely did not have access to books, while the royal family and the ulama were educated and able to have books. For various reasons, the printing press did not arrive in the Ottoman Empire until centuries after its invention, which led the Ottoman Empire to fall behind western countries in terms of literacy, reading, education, and modernity. This historical situation still leaves traces on our lives in contemporary Turkey. Unfortunately, Turkey is at the bottom of OECD and UNESCO lists relating to reading, literacy, schooling, printing, and per capita libraries.
Reading and education are the milestones of a society. Every other part of a country such as politics, economics, production, level of welfare, level of happiness etc. depend on them. People should be smart, aware and careful; they should care about each other, nature and the world. If people are exposed to shopping malls, they keep consuming. On the other hand, they start thinking, producing, and changing if they are surrounded with books, libraries, schools, opportunities, and innovation.
In modern Turkey, there are various kinds of libraries including university libraries, public libraries, school libraries, and research libraries. However, none of them is at the desired level. At some public libraries in rural regions, the staff are not competent enough as they are not educated in library and information science. Most state libraries (public or university) have inadequate budgets. State school libraries are rarely effective as they are not a part of the school curriculum. A small room with some old books without any librarian cannot be called a school library. Only private schools have great libraries with embedded activities and services. Instead of, for example, establishing new, innovative and green libraries with makerspaces, the government has elected to open ‘public coffee houses’ which operate like libraries.
Of course, there are dedicated librarians who make effective use of social media as a part of library services at libraries with modern and eco-friendly buildings; who transport books to small villages by donkey; who prepare activities for refugees in their native languages. There are library associations and successful academics working on improving library and information services in Turkey. However, both the quality and quantity of libraries should be improved so that every person can participate in society, has equal rights, and has equal access to information; so that democracy can actually work and censorship disappears. Digitisation and other library and information-based innovations should be followed and adopted more quickly to be able to see the difference a library can create.