The Süleymaniye Library is arguably one of the most important historical libraries in the world with its collection of 70,000 manuscripts from the Ottoman era. A total of 300,000 such manuscripts exist in private and museum collections in Turkey.
The Süleymaniye Library, which holds the largest collection of Islamic manuscripts in the world, underwent major changes in 1916 and has been a trendsetter for Turkish research libraries ever since. Although only a portion of the library’s 70,000 works have been either recorded on microfilm or digitized, the archive remains an invaluable resource for researchers. The library has a large collection of science, religion, geography, astrology, philosophy, language and history-related manuscripts. All the resources found in the library are original and authentic.
The library also holds nearly 50,000 printed Ottoman Turkish books as well as thousands of books in other languages, such as modern Turkish, English, French and German. Of the manuscripts at the Süleymaniye, 12,000 are in Turkish, 50,000 are in Arabic, and 3,680 are in Persian. Manuscripts on all manner of historical topics, including the Hagia Sophia, Bağdadlı Vehbi, Carullah, Damat İbrahim, Esad Efendi, Fatih, Hacı Mahud, Hamidiye, Kılıç Ali, Laleli, Reisülküttap, Süleymaniye, Şehid Ali and the Yeni Cami Mosque can be found in the library.
Turkey currently has a total of 300,000 manuscripts assigned to museums, private collections or foundations. There are 28 libraries under the Culture and Tourism Ministry in Turkey. Of those, 14 of are manuscript libraries. These 28 libraries contain 170,028 manuscripts. Their main aim is to preserve and protect the manuscripts, storing them under the necessary conditions, and to pass them along to future generations, as well as protecting the manuscripts in order to help researchers use them in the future. The libraries also contribute to presenting Turkish culture to the world, according to library representatives. Currently, all of the manuscripts are being transferred to a digital format, which will make the information they contain easier to share with researchers. The digitized versions of the works contain images representing ebru, calligraphy, miniatures and other Turkish handcraft techniques.
The only one in the world
The Süleymaniye Library is the only one in the world that holds manuscript copies of all of the extant works of Avicenna (İbn Sina), the great physician, scientist and philosopher, some of which date from as far back as the 11th century. The library’s rich collection of works stands in stark contrast to the present state of libraries in Turkey: Although the country is currently marking National Library Week, the occasion rings somewhat hollow with only approximately 1,450 public libraries across the country in 2006 – far from the 3,000 industrialist Andrew Carnegie established in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland before he died in 1919.
In 1950, the Süleymaniye Library became the first library in Turkey to provide microfilm and photocopying services, but these were hampered both by a lack of money to purchase the necessary special paper and film and by the difficulty of finding appropriate exchanges from foreign libraries. Even into the 1970s, obtaining a copy of a manuscript once permission was given might mean having to provide a copy of a manuscript located in another library in Paris, London or New York, in exchange. Since then, 5,000 holdings have been transferred to microfilm, including especially damaged manuscripts and other unique ones that include calligraphy, illumination and miniatures.
In addition to the microfilm service, the Süleymaniye has a digitization department and a restoration and research center. The Manuscripts and Rare Books Restoration and Research Center is an important section of the library, where worm-eaten or worn-out books are repaired. The center occasionally offers courses on classical book binding, book restoration and paper marbling.
Of the 13 libraries under Turkey’s state Libraries Foundation, seven are found in Istanbul. The Süelymaniye Library is the most important of these. Another of the libraries located in Istanbul, the Köprülü Manuscript Works Library, is found in Çemberlitaş, and was founded by Köprülü Mehmet Paşa in 1661. The library holds 2,774 manuscripts. The Atıf Efendi Manuscript Works Library is another important library in Istanbul, with a collection of 3,228 works.