First International Conference of Armenian Libraries a Success

Participants listening intently the first day of the conference in the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin
Participants listening intently the first day of the conference in the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin served as the site for the first ever “Global Armenian Library Conference,” which took place from Aug. 25-27 in Armenia, attracting heads of the most prestigious Armenian libraries in the world.

Rachel Goshgarian, the director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, and Rev. Fr. Asoghik Karapetian, the head of Archives at Holy Etchmiadzin—under the auspices of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and with the support of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)—organized an event that fostered dialogue and discussion about library organization and cataloguing as well as book preservation and digitization, among other relevant topics. The conference was the first of many cultural programs to take place in Armenia as part of the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian printing press.

The goals of the conference were to formulate standardized methods of library organization and cataloguing, create opportunities for the discussion of book preservation and digitization, develop an international book exchange between libraries, and establish a universal internet portal for Armenian collections. The conference participants adopted a resolution and established a working group to spearhead the creation of an internet website, which will provide information on Armenian and other language publications in the field of Armenian studies in Armenia and the diaspora.

The three-day conference was held in the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin. The first day consisted of brief presentations by the gross majority of participants on their specific collections, detailing the history and contents of each collection, and their current cataloguing system, digitization program, and acquisitions methods. Formal academic presentations were made on the second day, and covered topics including library organization, book distribution, digitization, and preservation. Participants traveled to Noravank Monastery on the third day, where they participated in a round-table discussion led by Prof. Kevork Bardakjian.

A final dinner in Yerevan provided another opportunity for the participants to discuss many of the concerns and ideas raised during the session in a more casual atmosphere. His Holiness Karekin II attended the final dinner and praised the participants and their works. Remembering the importance of the libraries of his childhood, he reflected upon the holy nature of books. At the dinner’s conclusion, Fr. Asoghik thanked the participants for attending and sharing their knowledge and experience, and spoke enthusiastically about future concrete collaborations between the libraries.

Participants of the Library Conference outside the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin
Participants of the Library Conference outside the Old Theological Seminary at Holy Etchmiadzin

“I think it’s time well spent simply to get us all in one room at one time to meet each other face to face and talk to each other. That in and of itself was groundbreaking work and extremely worthwhile,” said Michael Grossman, a library assistant in the Middle Eastern division of the Widener Library at Harvard University.

Hasmik Poghosyan, the minister of culture of Armenia, and Hranush Hakobyan, the minister of diaspora, welcomed and participated in the conference. Both ministries pledged their support for future endeavors. On the evening of Aug. 25, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, Marie Yovanovitch, held a reception in her Yerevan home for the participants.

Very Rev. Fr. Nareg Louisian of the Bzommar Armenian Catholic Clergy Institute in Lebanon concurred that it was unprecedented to have a conference that attracted the heads of Armenian libraries from around the world. “This was indeed a historic conference and greatly useful to all of us. In addition, I am enthusiastic in working with fellow heads of Armenian libraries around the world,” he said.

Aside from participants coming together for the first time to discuss important issues and the challenges they face in their respective libraries, the event set the stage for future cooperation among these organizations.

“After attending this conference, I have a greatly renewed sense of hope of cooperation among Armenian libraries and of someday everyone having access to materials that have been for far too long completely inaccessible,” said Edward G. Matthews, representing St. Nersess Armenian Theological Seminary.

In the coming months, both a list-serv for conference participants and a general website for Armenian libraries and collections will be created.

The following libraries were represented at the conference: the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the Catholicate of Cilicia, the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem, the Mkhitarian Brotherhoods of Venice and Vienna, the Bzommar Armenian Catholic Clergy Institute, the Mesrob Mashdots Manuscript Repository, the National Library of Armenia, the National Archives of Armenia, the Fundamental Library of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Yerevan State University, Harvard University’s Widener Library, the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), the British Library, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the Yeghishe Charents Museum of Literature and Art, the Abovian Armenian National Library, the AGBU Nubarian Library, the American University of Armenia, the National Children’s Library of Armenia, the Avedik Isahakyan Central Library, the Armenian Library and Museum of America, the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research, the Armenian Cultural Foundation, the Armenian Prelacy, and many of the regional libraries of Armenia.

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Below are excerpts from an interview with Rachel Goshgarian by Taleen Babayan, a program manager at the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center who also assisted with preparations for the conference. (remove if not necessary)

Taleen Babayan: Why did you organize the conference?

Rachel Goshgarian: When I started as director of the Zohrab Center a little over two years ago, I benefited greatly from discussions with my colleagues who were heading similar libraries in the United States. Little by little, I realized that many of the heads of Armenian libraries and collections were not in contact with one another, although I was sure we could all benefit greatly from conversations with one another. I started asking my colleagues if they thought a conference would be a worthwhile endeavor and everyone agreed that it would.
TB: What were the objectives of the conference?

RG: At the most basic level, the objective was to create better links between Armenian-oriented libraries in the diaspora and in Armenia, and to create a forum in which we can discuss issues of importance to all of us. At the conference this first step was realized, and we began to discuss issues such as book preservation, digitization, the exchange of duplicate books, and how to send books from the diaspora to Armenia and from Armenia to the diaspora. The conversation has just begun. Now we must ensure that our links remain strong and that all of these issues continue to be discussed in detail.
TB: What were the steps you took in organizing the conference?

RG: When I first proposed the idea to Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, he was very enthusiastic. When I suggested the conference take place in Armenia at the Mother See, Archbishop Barsamian discussed this idea with His Holiness Karekin II, and he was not only interested, he gave us his blessing to proceed with preparations. He then appointed the Rev. Fr. Asoghig Karapetian, who is the head of the archives at the Mother See, to organize the conference with me and the two of us began preparations.
TB: What was the significance of the conference?

RG: It was a major first step. One of the most interesting realizations we made was that most of the people who head up Armenian libraries or collections have no training whatsoever in library sciences. Most are highly educated individuals with a background in history or literature, and most of us have learned about organizing libraries and preserving books, etc., either through our own individual research or through conversations with trained librarians.

The Armenian tradition of printing goes back many centuries. Even the smallest of our library collections has a very impressive range of books and publications. All of the heads of these libraries and collections care deeply for Armenian heritage and culture, and for that reason, this meeting was both useful and reassuring. Oftentimes, it seems that not only in Armenia, but in the diaspora, and amongst non-Armenians, books and reading have taken a second seat to other forms of learning and technology. But sitting in a room with other individuals who have dedicated their lives to books and to making Armenian literature and history available was a powerful experience, especially since we were there together at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
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Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan earned her masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2008 and her bachelors degree in history and international relations from Tufts University in 2006. Her work has been published widely in both Armenian and non-Armenian media. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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