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A Conference at Issykkul' in Kyrgygstan, October 2007

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Tanja Lorkovic
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Central Asian librarians strive to achieve a unified library network and stronger cooperation among their libraries. CALINET is planned for the future

By Tatjana Lorković, Curator
Beautiful Land

The northern side of the Lake Issykkul’

There are close to sixty million people and around 25,000 libraries in the Central Asian republics. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union many of the economic, cultural and information connections among these republics were discontinued. Cultural isolation became the order of the day. Each republic started to develop its own information and library networks. The relations between the republics were destroyed and the book exchanges were brought to a minimum. Librarians in these countries, however, always wanted to develop cultural and information relations. They are bound by similar languages, tradition and history.  Nowadays there is a push towards a unified network system and for broad library cooperation. This new trend was evident at “Issykkul’ 2007,” a library conference attended by a large group of Central Asian library professionals.

Issykkul’ conference
Conference Area

The northern shore of the Lake Issykkul’

One of the aims of my trip to Kyrgyzstan was to attend the 8th International Conference entitled “Issykkul’ 2007: Libraries and the Democratization of Society” which took place at the Issykkul’ lake near the town of Cholpon-Ata, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, from the 1st to the 5th of October, 2007.

The main ideas of the conference, prominently displayed on the walls in the meeting hall were “Equal opportunity and equal access to knowledge and information in electronic environment” and “We need one another” (displayed in Russian as “My nuzhny drug drugu”).

At the conference I met with library leaders from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tadzhikistan and Uzbekistan. The fifth Central Asian republic, Turkmenistan, was not represented despite the efforts of the organizers to invite their colleagues from that Republic. Apparently the former leader of the country, now deceased, Saparmurat Niyazov, closed all libraries during his reign and thus effectively destroyed library organizations and their infrastructure. It was not possible, unfortunately, to reach out to that country and bring any Turkmeni librarians to the conference.

These annual library meetings, which started in the year 2000 and modeled after the Russian annual library “Crimea Conference,” were organized by the Kyrgyz Library Information Consortium, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. The conference was partially funded by the “Soros-Kyrgyzstan Open Society Organization,” The World Bank, EBSCO Publishing (USA), The United States Embassy to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan and some other organizations.

Attending the conference were five delegates from Kazakhstan, fifty three from Kyrgyzstan, six from Uzbekistan, five from Tadzhikistan, three from Russia, one from Armenia, Mr. Tigran Zagraryan, (director of the Library of the Armenian Academy of Sciences), and nine from the United States of America. The delegates were for the most part leaders of the national, academic and regional libraries and directors of the Book Chambers of these Central Asian countries. Some children’s literature librarians and rural librarians were also represented at the conference.

Flags from countries

Openning session of the conference
Conference Room

Participants of the conference at work

The work of the conference was divided into sections, round tables and master classes.

The section subjects were:

“Collection formation & development and management of knowledge resources”
“Organization of effective use of information in the electronic environment”
“Cooperative interaction and collaboration,”

The round tables discussed the following themes:
“Young specialists in the libraries: achievements and opportunities”
“Museum libraries, archives and general culture areas”
“Central Asia’s information and library infrastructure: problems and decisions”

A specially organized master class was devoted to “Rural libraries as a gateway to knowledge and information for remote areas far from the Republic’s cultural centers.”


American delegates: Herbert B. Landau, Donna McCool ,
Victoria Spain, Edward Warro, Tatjana Lorković
Tatjana at Conference

Tatjana Lorković at the lake side

The papers were given in the Russian, Kyrgyz and English languages. My presentation, entitled “Collecting Central Asian materials in large academic libraries in the United States,” was delivered in Russian. After a historical overview of the Soviet and post-Soviet era I explained the current situation and our difficulties in keeping up and developing the Central Asian collections. The essence of my speech was a plea to the directors of the Book Chambers and library colleagues to organize their own book exporting companies which would send their publications to Western research libraries without intermediaries and the resultant chronic delays.

It seemed logical to me to present such an idea since the general tenor of the conference was cooperation among the Central Asian states and integration in the global library world. It had a business appeal too. Why let companies from other countries reap the profits from their products when they could set up a book trade on their own. My recommendation underlined the need for the establishment of a book-export company for Central Asia, a company which would take over the function of the former Soviet “Mezhdunarodnaia kniga,” which would procure Central Asian printed materials for world research libraries in a timely and systematic manner. This would also provide an opportunity for the employment of some librarians and it would be a step towards the business development among the library cadres.  

My speech had an impact. During the breaks I was approached by Uzbek, Tadzhik and Kyrgyz  Book Chambers representatives to talk further about this project. The idea was broached over evening meals and early morning and late afternoon walks along the lake. We have brought this idea to the point of a tentative  proposal which might soon come to  fruition.

The conference ended with a session in which joint conclusions and suggestions for future action were presented by Marat Rakhmatullaev Alimovich, (The National Library of Uzbekistan). The main joint library effort, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tadzhikistan, called for the implementation of CALINET—Central Asia Library Information Network. The purpose of CALINET will be the development of the Central Asian republics’ information infrastructure which would provide the region with open access to many information resources. The project, if it is to be effective, should develop in several directions. It should encompass The Central Asia International Library Training Center, The Central Asia Union Library Electronic Catalog, The Central Asia WWW Library Portal (in Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian and English) and enhance library cooperation among the Central Asian republics.
Participants discussed the possible strategies on how to achieve this main goal. They talked about education, international seminars, consultations with  Western librarians, visits to the developed countries, the organization of book exchanges, dissemination of scientific and bibliographic information and so forth. One of the issues, rarely talked about, but present in the minds of many participants, was the necessity of  technical support for internet availability in small libraries in Central Asia. These libraries have experienced slow response times for their internet systems which are also prone to intermittent collapses.     

From USA
A delegate from Uzbekistan: Isamidin Zuhriddinov
A delegate from Russia: Tat'iana Glazunova
From USA too

Victoria Spain and Wayne Dudley
The Conference venue

I would be amiss if I did not say something about the venue of the conference. The hotel, the Aurora, a former sanatorium for the members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was built in the seventies as a “spa” for these high ranking officials. It is constructed in the shape of a ship, reminiscent of the cruiser “Avrora,” whose crew fired the shots which started the October Revolution. The building is surrounded by magnificent gardens created with care and incredible horticultural expertise.  There the Tien-shan firs, combined with the Russian birch trees, create shady walks down to the lake. The rose gardens dominate the open spaces with their multicolored flowers and exquisite fragrance. The air is clean and the lake is believed to have medicinal qualities. Its clear waters in variations of turquoise and blue hues are warm regardless of the lake’s high altitude. Issykkul’ lies at an elevation of 1,609 meters (close to 4,827 feet) above sea level and is surrounded by the Alatau Range of high mountains from both the north and the south. The lake is so large that the locals call it the Kyrgyz Sea. I was told that the Russian cosmonauts who see it from space call it “The eye of the Earth” (in Russian “Oko Zemli”), since it is shaped in the form of the human eye. 

In spite of a three day travel to Bishkek, due to the cancellation of British Air flight at Heathrow, the rerouting through Saint Petersburg and some other mishaps,  I consider this trip a great success. I made many new professional contacts which will benefit the Yale University Library.       

Beautiful Land

A view of the sorthern side of Lake Issykkul’ with Alatau Mountain Range