Azerbaijan National Library

submitted by Andrea Gillaspy-Steinhilper

I suppose I collect libraries. Many librarians do. A librarian on a vacation is like a bus driver on a vacation – you just have to see how THEY do it. So, while visiting Baku, Azerbaijan, I contacted the Azeri National Library. They said I could visit — so I did.

I arrived at the library with only my drivers license and a business card. Generally, passports are required for non-residents, but as I only wanted to see the library, they allowed me in, and a very helpful and friendly librarian (do they come any other way?) gave me a tour. Adila Abdullayeva is the head of Methodical Support of Libraries Department. She spoke Azeri and Russian. I speak English and French, with a smattering of Spanish. It was interesting speaking without a real common language, but Adila was wonderful. 

The beautiful marble Azerbaijan National Library [Azərbaycan Milli Kitabxanası] sits right on Sahil Square, one of the many parks in Baku. Its three floors center around the staircase and courtyard covered with a glass skylight. The ground floor holds registration and some paintings by Azeri artists. The second floor has one huge reading room, reminiscent of reading rooms in the Biblioteca Nacional de España and the Boston Public LIbrary, but other reading and research rooms were smaller. The large one was for general work, the smaller ones for specific disciplines such as science, humanities, music.

One very interesting room was the room of antique books. They had items in Latin and Farsi, as well as Azeri and Russian. The books dated from the 18th century to the 15th century. The also had a collection of miniature books. (This seems to be an Azeri phenomenon – they also have a museum of miniature books near the old city.) In that room the Persian books and illustrations in Arabic script were so elegant!

The library had TWO music rooms. One was the room with many scores, of theatrical music and also orchestral and general music, half Azeri, and half Russian and European. However, there was also a listening room, where one could use headphones to hear recordings of different pieces of music.

We did go into other reading and research rooms, but I do not remember them all. I did notice their stacks, though. As with most large libraries, the books are not available for patrons to take off the shelves. Instead, patrons look up what they want in the catalog, request it, and it is brought to you in your reading room. They have both a card catalog and a computer catalog. The computer catalog must have been fairly new because over at least some of them was a sign that even someone with insignificant Russian could tell said “new computer catalog.” I’m afraid I didn’t pay enough attention to tell whether they used Dewey, the European system similar to Dewey, LC, or another cataloging system. And, the question would have been beyond my communication skills.

The periodicals/newspaper room was surprising, as they had many print items. I said that in the USA, and particularly at my college, we more frequently have periodical items on the computer than we do in print. Adila Abdullayeva said, while they do have computers, Azeri users still need print and have many items in print. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask if that was because of their demographic, of the available material, of funding, or for some other reason.

It was a beautiful library, with many very friendly librarians. I love visiting other libraries!

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