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Report: Acquisitions trip to The Republic of Kazakhstan, June 16-29, 2005
by Tatjana Lorković, Curator, Slavic and East European Collection
The original intent of the trip was to visit several countries of Central Asia. That plan was derailed by the unstable political situation in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where we were advised not to go at the present time. I was traveling together with Jared Ingersoll, the Librarian for Slavic-East European and Eurasian Studies at Columbia University, hence the reference to “we “ throughout the report. We traveled on joint United /Lufthansa flights via Frankfurt and stayed at the same hotel and later at an apartment in Almaty. After a grueling trip of more than twenty-four hours we were met at the airport by Lyalya Omarova, a book dealer with whom we occasionally do business, and she drove us in her van to “The Ambasador Hotel” on Zholtoksan Street.
The purpose of our trip was to:
- establish contacts with the major libraries in the Republic of Kazakhstan, hoping to revive the exchanges which were active during the Soviet period
- investigate the possibilities of finding additional local book dealers who would purchase materials on the ground, in an effort to eliminate high prices which are now paid to East View Publishers, our main supplier from the region
- discuss in detail with the Almaty book dealers and librarians the book profile in which our Libraries are interested in
- investigate the opportunities for shipping of materials to the United States
On Monday, the 20 th of June at ten in the morning we were received as previously arranged (Please see attachment 1) at the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan by Gulissa Balabekova, Deputy Director General on Library and Information Technologies, Edilhan I. Ismailov, Councilor and Scientific Secretary of the Library and Marina Nikolaevna Yablonskaya, an officer responsible for the international relations. Following the traditional customs of greetings, gift giving and “chai” we had a productive meeting during which we expressed our desire for co-operation, exchange of books and for their help in the purchasing important titles while we were in Almaty and for general information about “Kazakhstanica.”
Following this initial and very cordial meeting we were taken on a tour of the Library, which gave us an impression of being well organized, well governed and quite prosperous. We visited the Exhibition Hall where an Iranian book exhibit was held and saw several beautiful examples of Persian manuscripts, 18 th century Korans and exquisitely decorated books. We also saw the Chinese Reading room with thirteen thousand reference books, an exhibition of artifacts from China, a display of Beijing newspapers that are delivered on a daily basis as well as several computers linked to Chinese networks. All of these items are gifts from the Chinese government. America was represented by a spacious, well equipped room of computers called the Chevron / Texaco Reference Room for Oil and Gas Technology. Equally impressive was Dina Jandosova’s Department for the Creation of Digital Library, where the scanning of the first Kazakhstan newspaper “Qazaq,” from 1913, was taking place.
In general, the presence of China is felt everywhere in Almaty, and the emerging superpower next door is widely recognized both as an important partner in Kazakhstan's development and as a potential threat to her independence. At the same time, China's recent economic growth has ignited a need for energy resources that are available in Kazakhstan. The Chinese Cultural Center in the National Library represents a significant investment in cultural contact - it should be observed by way of comparison that the American cultural collections that were distributed in the early 1990s to the newly independent states comprised roughly 3,500 volumes, and these have not been refreshed. All Almaty's universities, also, offer Chinese language courses. [This paragraph was contributed by Jared Ingersoll]
Figure 1: Tatjana Lorkovic, Jared Ingersol and Marina N. Yablonskaya at the Iranian Exhibition.
Figure 2: Pages from an 18th century Persian Koran. (Photo T. Lorkovic).
Figure 3: Gul’sun G. Begisheva, Tatjana Lorkovic, Jared Ingersoll, Marina N. Yabloskaya in the Chinese Room. (Photo T. Lorkovic).
Figure 4: ChevronTexaco Room in the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (Photo T. Lorkovic)
An acquisitions librarian, Gul’sun G. Begisheva, was assigned to us for the visit to different publishing houses planned for Tuesday, 21st of June. The Library also provided us with a van and driver. Marina Nikolaevna offered us her office as a base where we could always stop by, work and feel at home while in Almaty.
On Tuesday, June 21 we met with Mr. Iurii Tsai (Chae) who is the East View Publications agent in Almaty. We discussed the book trade situation in Kazakhstan, his selection program, what kind of books he should be acquiring for our libraries and finally the transportation of the materials to the United States. It seems that the cheapest way is to send packages of books by train to Moscow. In Moscow somebody meets the train, the packages are received and then the Moscow office proceeds with the distribution and shipping to the United States. We found out from him that the Kazakh Post Office is slow, unreliable and enormously expensive. Mr. Tsai was very informative. He is Korean by background. He told us that many nationalities living nowadays in Kazakhstan (there are 130 nationalities) are the descendants of Stalin’s gulag victims, exiled to the steppes of Central Asia. For instance, Leon Trotsky was exiled in Almaty before his expulsion from the Soviet Union. During the morning and well past noon this very educated man explained to us the current political and economic situation of the country and we got an insight into the forces that shaped Nazarbayev’s Kazakhstan. The situation in Kazakhstan has led to a different geo-political situation as compared to the other neighboring states.
After a delicious lunch at an authentic Korean restaurant we went to the publishing houses to buy books with Gul’sun Begisheva. We soon found out that neither Visa, Master Card nor American Express is accepted in the bookstores. We had to pay with hard cash, preferably in “tinge,” the Kazakh currency, or in euros and dollars. The transactions were never simple. The invoices were created in the bookstore, while the payments had to go through the bookkeeping departments, where the currency values, exchange rates etc. were not well understood. The paper trail involved many hands before the transactions were completed. That done another problem arose -- there is no packaging of purchased books, there are no strings to bind them together or bags to put them in. We carried the books in our hands trying not to lose any. The same commotion was repeated in all publishing houses we visited that afternoon. Gul’sun’s presence was precious. Thanks to Gul’sun’s knowledge of publishing output and our driver’s physical strengths we accomplished a lot in one afternoon. These books and many others received during our stay either as gifts or as an exchange offer were taken to the National Library where Gul’sun had them packed, cleared for export and finally brought to the airport when we left. Jared and I departed with 45 kg of books each and thanks to Lufthansa’s generous baggage allowance we did not even have to pay the overweight fees. I am so glad that on the last day we presented Gul’sun with flowers and several boxes of chocolates.
Wednesday, June 22, at ten in the morning we visited the Central Scientific Library of the Ministry of Education and Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, former Library of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences. The Library occupies one wing of the Academy’s imposing building which is surrounded by parks, rose gardens and fountains. It was built after World War II by Japanese prisoners of war, among whom must have been some good architects and planners, since the building has an interesting entrance hall, many imposing staircases and well proportioned and well lit reading rooms. Azhar Khamitovna Yusupova, the Deputy Director for Scientific Work, received us in her elegant office. After the usual presentation of gifts and greetings we sat down to work. I remarked about the good relations enjoyed by our two institutions during the Soviet era. The Library of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences has been our steady and reliable exchange partner and I pointed out to her that I would like to continue the exchange program. Azhar Khamitovna invited Amina Mukanova, Chief of the Department of International Books Exchanges, to join us in our meeting. She accepted my Yale University Press catalog from which her Library could choose titles of interest to them. I also mentioned that their Geology Institute was our exchange partner in previous years and that Yale University is very much interested in obtaining their publications.
Figure 5: Azhar H. Yusupova, Tatjana Lorkovic, and Amina Mukanova under a dombra, the national instrument of Kazakhstan.
Figure 6: Jared Ingersoll, Tatjana Lorkovic at the entrance hall of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences.
After lunch we were taken to the Geology Institute of the Academy of Science. It is situated in an imposing building and it was bustling with activity. The Director received us for a prolonged meeting. He talked with passion about the geology programs in Kazakhstan of which he was very proud. He was even prouder of the new branch of geology in which they have already excelled — geology of the cosmos. He presented us with many gifts--several titles relating to geology and among them, the recently published eight-volume complete works by a famous Kazakh geologist, Kanysh Imantaevich Satpaev, 1899-1964, after whom the Institute of Geology is named.
On Thursday, 23 rd of June in the morning we were invited to visit the Central State Archive of the Republic of Kazakhstan where we were received by its director Bolat Tadzhibaevich Zhanaev. He is a historian who is very interested in the betterment of his organization. We asked if we could obtain a copy of the guide to the collections but were told that the new edition of the guide is being prepared for publication and that he does not want us to have the now obsolete older edition. The Archive contains more than 1,300,000 archival documents related to the history of Kazakhstan. The first dated document starts with the year 1733 and the archive documents the events of the 19 th and 20 th centuries. We talked briefly about the organization of archival services in Kazakhstan which is very similar to the Russian system. Besides the Central Archive, there are regional and city archives throughout the country. The government is now building a New State Archive in Astana to house the new government documents, while the Archive in Almaty will keep its current holdings. He asked us if we could send them the journal, “American Archivist,” and we asked him in return to help Yale graduate student, Sarah Cameron, who is spending this summer in Almaty researching the early Soviet period in Kazakhstan, the subject of her doctoral thesis.
We were pleasantly surprised by an invitation to meet the director of the National Library of Kazakhstan, Mr. Murat Auezov. We had been hoping that this meeting would take place, but were told that he was a very busy man. Mr. Auezov is a Sinologist. He was for several years the Kazakh Ambassador to China, and is also the son of the best known Kazakh author Muhtar Omarkhanovich Auezov. He received us in his office and we had photos taken with him under a large portrait of Abai Qunanbaev, a 19 th century author who started the study of Kazakh culture. After giving us a warm welcome, Mr. Auezov was especially interested in one thing – cooperation with Yale and Columbia Universities. He asked us “Is this trip one event that will bring some books to our libraries, or is this something that will start a long term relationship among our institutions?” I assured him that the intention of our trip was to build long-term contacts and cooperation. I mentioned, also, our hope to organize an exhibit of Kazakh books at Yale University and at Columbia. He thought it was a wonderful idea and he told us he would support the organization of such an exhibit wholeheartedly. Mr. Auezov talked about the history of Kazakhstan and about the many peoples who were brought to live in his country due to the penal system of both Czarist and Soviet Russia. He also talked about the nature of nomadic peoples, about the efforts to revive the authentic Kazakh culture and many other topics. It was quite an experience for us - the opportunity to listen to this learned man talk about his country! This meeting alone made our long trip worthwhile. He also invited us to watch his television program the next day on Kazakh authentic culture that airs a new segment every week. He also gave us a gift –the complete issues of the journal “Rukh –Miras” a Kazakh cultural almanac. The television program was about Serzhan, the contemporary and famous Kazakh jewelry maker.
Figure 7: Murat M. Auezov, Tatjana Lorkovic, and Jared Ingersoll under a portrait of Abai Kunanbaev.
In the afternoon, accompanied by Ms. Yablonskaya, we visited the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Guided by Olga Nikolayevna, an excellent guide, we got an insight into the development of Kazakhstan from the early nomadic period up to modern times. Among other exhibits we saw the Gold Room where Scythian gold objects discovered in a nearby cave were shown. I was particularly taken with a piece that was made to represent the “Golden Fleece” and with other pieces of jewelry which testify to the high artisanship of these ancient people.
Figure 8: Dagger and its sheath from the Gold Room at the Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan. (Photo T. Lorkovic)
On Friday, June 24 th, we again visited the National Library to discuss with Gul’sun the problem of packing and shipping our books. We had to obtain export permission for all the titles in our possession number of which grew daily. Gul’sun took care of the paper work. This took an inordinate amount of time and lots of paper documentation. Once this was accomplished we sat down with Eldihan Ismailov , the Library’s Councilor and Scientific Secretary, in front of the television to watch Mr. Auezov’s program. This particular segment showed a conversation with Serzhan the jeweler.
On Monday, June 27 th, we had a final business meeting with Mr. Eldihan Ismailov. Our main topic was the possible exhibit of Kazakh books at Yale and Columbia Universities. The National Library was very interested and both Jared and I told him that we strongly supported this project. It was obvious, however, that we did not have the authority to conclude any agreement with the National Library in the name of our institutions while in Almaty. We agreed that we should talk, once back in the States, to our directors, and, if there were interest on their part, we would send their names and e-mail addresses to Mr. Ismailov who could then initiate the proposal at the appropriate level with people in authority in both Kazakhstan and the United States. In the event that the exhibit is approved, both Jared and I would then become intensively engaged in preparing the exhibit. The National Library would then send some of the materials and possibly prepare an exhibition catalog if the project is approved.
Eldihan Ismailov had a special favor to ask from us. He invited to our meeting a professor from the Kazakh National University, Mr. Berikbai Sagyndykuly, the author of a recently published book on Turkic languages “Fonologicheskie zakonomernosti razvitiia leksiki tiurkskilh iazykov” (Almaty :Kazakhskii natsional’nyi univetrsitet imeni al-Farabi, 2004. 306 p. ISBN 9965-12-7093). Mr. Sagyndykuly presented us with three copies of his work and asked us to find a qualified reader in the West. He considers his book to be an important contribution to the lexicology of Turkic languages and was afraid that from far away Almaty his work would not reach Western students of Turkic languages. We promised to do what we could and his book is now on its way to the shelves through cataloging at Columbia and at Yale University Libraries while the third copy is being forwarded to Oxford University. We have identified and contacted Mr. Frye, a Harvard professor, whom we hope will be able to evaluate the work.
We continued our earlier conversations on exchange matters. Currently the National Library exchanges materials with the Library of Congress. They use the American diplomatic pouch for shipping books to the States. They want to extend exchanges to Yale and Columbia Universities. They are interested in the Yale University Press catalogs and they would like to order titles via e-mail. Already, they asked for ten titles from the YUP catalog which I had brought with me as a goodwill gesture. They also reciprocated very generously with many gifts. If we find a reasonable shipping solution, the National Library could become a good source of “Kazakhstanica” materials for our libraries.
In the early afternoon we stopped at the office of Azhar Hamitovna Yusupova at the Central Scientific Library. We thanked her for her and her staff’s cordial reception. We confirmed our intention to continue exchanges and we took each other’s e-mail addresses since we would like to stay in touch. Azhar suggested that Jared and I write an article about our visit to Almaty for their library journal and we agreed to this proposal.
Later in the afternoon we visited the Kazakh-British Technological University and were received by Balaganym Muslimovna Mansurova, Director of the Library. This well-funded university has luxurious premises because it inherited the building of the Kazakhstan Parliament, which has moved recently to Astana. The University’s offerings will be enlarged and enhanced by the London School of Economics, which plans to run a parallel program in Almaty. The plan is to issue diplomas that would have equal value as the ones given in London. I was impressed with the Library’s computer room where many students worked at the terminals - half of them were women.
Tuesday, June 28 th was our last working day. In the morning we took flowers to the National Library and gave them to the employees who helped us during our stay there. We said our good-byes and were photographed with our Kazakh colleagues in front of the building. I think that we made many new friends in Almaty.
Figure 9: Svetlana Tasybaeva. Gulissa Balabekova, Edilhan I. Ismailov, Jared Ingersoll, Tatjana Lorkovic, and Marina N. Yablobskaya in front of the National Library of Kazakhstan.
We had lunch with Mr. Tsai in order to have a last discussion about the books we need and the pricing structure for these materials. He appreciated our explanations regarding the books we need. He also understood our concerns about the high write-up added by East View Publishers to these items. He told us that he couldn’t do anything about it, however, since he is the first one in line in the pricing chain when he buys books in Kazakhstan for East View. The Moscow office calculates additional expenses and adds to the original price. Now that we know how much books really cost in Kazakhstan, we might rebel against the high costs charged to us and perhaps we might succeed in lowering their prices, because of this information we obtained in Almaty.
Our last meeting was in the evening in our apartment with Mrs. Lyalya Omarova. We both agreed that she should in future buy a larger number of books for Yale. Jared decided also that she should begin supplying materials to Columbia University. We again discussed the profile of books we want, the pricing and the difficulties with shipping. Mrs. Omarova seems to be the best supplier for us based on our previous good experience with her services. We checked her prices and found out that they were higher than the prices on the ground, but not exorbitantly so. The shipping by surface mail in packages of two kilograms seems to be reaching us regularly and working very well. Mrs. Omarova agreed to increase her volume of acquisitions for Yale and is willing to take on Jared’s collection and to send materials to Columbia University. We parted as good friends and our hopes are high for continued fruitful cooperation with this business partner.
Figure 10: Tatjana Lorkovic, Zaira Utebayeva, and Lyailya Omarova.
Shortly after midnight of June 29 th the National Library’s van arrived, loaded with our books, and took us to the airport. We left Almaty at 3:00 a.m. and arrived many hours later safely back home.
In this report I tried to highlight the work related events but let me add that we were greatly impressed by the beauty of the city and the incredible scenery of the Alatau mountain range south of Almaty. The other memory that I will take away from this trip is the friendliness and charm of the Kazakh people who showered us with warmth and hospitality throughout our stay.
Figure 11: Tatjana Lorkovic at 3,200 meters in the Alatau Range Mountains.
Figure 14: St. Nicolas, Russian Easter Orthodox Church in Almaty. (Photo T. Lorkovic)