Libro Futuro

The transformative role of libraries. Librarians in Kazakhstan. Mario Coffa interviews Nurganym (Nura) Agzamova

Intervista in italiano

Nurganym (Nura) Agzamova is a librarian from Kazakhstan. Nura began working as an assistant at the National Academic Library of Kazakhstan in 2008. Since then, she has been fascinated by the convergence of ideas taking place in libraries. She has worked in public, academic and school libraries, as well as interned in institutions and archives of special collections. She received his master in Library and Information Sciences from Syracuse University, where he found mentoring and support from her professors, fellow LIS students, and library colleagues. After completing her MLIS degree, she began working at an international baccalaureate school in the capital of Kazakhstan and supported staff and students. Nura sees the power of libraries in promoting lifelong learning and mutual understanding in the community. She loves collaborating with all library stakeholders and sincerely believes in the transformative role of libraries.

Nura, what does it mean to be a librarian in Kazakhstan? Is there a legal and social recognition of the profession?

I think in order to talk about libraries in Kazakhstan, and the region of Central Asia in general, it is worth discussing the historical context. Kazakhstan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 (Sinor 1998). Before the Soviet Union, the country was under the Russian Empire rule from 1731(ibid). Therefore, a myriad of factors influenced the system of librarianship in my country. At the same time, I would be remiss not to mention the vast cultural heritage of the country with its long-standing traditions of oral history, literature, music, poetry, and folklore (Kendirbayeva 1994). People who lived on this territory for millennia utilized a complex system of runic scripts that originated in Orkhon-Yenisey valley (Shukla and Tikkanen 1998). The oral traditions remain alive to this day as part of the global intangible cultural heritage (Kamensky 2017). In 2017, there were 4100 libraries in Kazakhstan (Main statistical indicators 2022) operating under the Ministry of Culture of Kazakhstan. The main law, which regulates the work of the libraries is the Law on Culture that was adopted in 2006 that contains a chapter on the libraries (no.24). More information about the legislative background of the libraries is available on the website of the National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan. For me personally, to be a librarian is to serve my community. It is important to be a friendly presence in the public space of the library for my colleagues and most importantly for our patrons. Even when I worked in cataloging, I could not disconnect myself from the end-user. I wanted to do a good job with the bibliographic records to make it easier for people to find information they needed. I see fantastic achievements of my colleagues in Kazakhstan in the field of electronic repositories (Nazarbayev University, n.d.), public services (Electronic Information for Libraries 2014), and cultural spaces (Yermek-kyzy 2020). I am extremely proud of all librarians in Kazakhstan despite all the difficulties they face. It is not a secret that the librarians in Kazakhstan are not well-compensated for their work (Kuzekbai 2022), which has an impact on the overall job satisfaction and as well as the recruitment of new librarians.

You have worked in various types of libraries. In your opinion, what is the main role that a library must have beyond its specificity?

During my time at Syracuse University, I was very fortunate to be in classes of world-renowned researchers in Library and Information Science. One of the professors, Dr. Lankes, during the intro into librarianship class, discussed the idea of librarians as agents of positive change, and it stuck with me: “Librarians are agents for radical positive change who choose to make a difference” (Lankes). I genuinely believe that librarians and library leaders cannot separate themselves from their communities. Librarians should always keep their eyes and ears open to the needs and aspirations of their communities. I think it’s important that the librarians provide an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome. Another important role of librarians is to promote democracy – in removing the obstacles to access information and promoting participation in the society for all. We can witness how valiantly librarians in Ukraine are offering shelter and support to the people in their care (Chappell 2022). We can see the courage of the librarians in Afghanistan who deserve recognition for upholding the right to education and access to information (Bahl 2021; Ovenden 2021).

The dramatic experience of the pandemic has helped stimulate the digital process to cope with the physical closure of libraries. How has Kazakhstan reacted to this process of change?

I personally think that the libraries in Kazakhstan did their best in these circumstances. There were online storytimes through Instagram, arts and crafts workshops, virtual reference services, and drop off and pick-up of the textbooks with respect to the pandemic regulations. I notice that many libraries promote their work through social media and are doing fantastic jobs connecting with their patrons. One of my favorite libraries is the Almaty Library for Children and Youth in Almaty named after Begalin, or otherwise known as “Begalinka”. It has a team of dedicated library staff that promote reading and learning and do outreach programs. Another outstanding public library institution is the Regional Library of Eastern Kazakhstan. It’s one of the most proactive public libraries in the nation, and always shares its success stories with IFLA.

How do you think a library or librarian can understand the needs of a community to improve services?

I notice in conversations with people outside of the library field in Kazakhstan that there is an image of a library customer as that of a student, researcher, or pensioner, or someone who has free time to read, almost over-identifying the libraries with books. I can, however, notice a shift in the way the libraries strategise their development and public outreach. As an example, many public lectures now take place in libraries. Another initiative that I noticed was in Oskemen where online Q&A with an attorney provides access to legal information (East Kazakhstan Regional Library named after A.S. Pushkin 2022). For this initiative to exist, it is apparent that the librarians saw the need for this kind of information in the community, this is incredible, really.

As you state in your presentation, libraries have a transformative role. What does this mean and how can this be achieved?

In my understanding, a transformation is a continuous action repeated over the course of time to create or alter the way systems operate. At times, transformations are subtle and very often their results are not immediate. E.g. an after-school homework program at a public library doesn’t require much in terms of investment of time. However, over the course of a school year and coupled with the summer reading program, it can lead to an academic improvement, and can create a positive association with the library for years to come. Transformation and change are slow processes, take a long time, dedication, commitment. They also require a buy-in from the community and the librarians themselve. I genuinely believe that many librarians adhere to this idea.

What would you recommend to a young student who would one day want to be a librarian? 

I would recommend that this person talk to as many librarians as they can. The most amazing thing about librarians is that we are an extremely diverse community of people: every librarian I’ve ever met or worked with had interests outside librarianship and books – they baked, knitted, coded, sang in a choir, or were active in sports. All these qualities allow the librarians to relate to their patrons. I think technology is another aspect that the librarians should keep themselves informed about. Ability to adapt and build connections is essential for the work of the librarian as well. Last but not least, I’d recommend any new librarian to lead with courage and work in accordance with their values.



Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa
Mario Coffa archivista e bibliotecario, laureato in Conservazione dei Beni Culturali presso l’Università degli Studi di Perugia (2005) e diplomato in Archivistica e Paleografia presso la Scuola di Archivistica dell’Archivio Segreto Vaticano (2010). Dal 2010 Lavora per CAeB (Cooperativa Archivistica e Bibliotecaria) presso le biblioteche dell’Università di Perugia come bibliotecario e come archivista presso l'Archivio Storico del Comune di Gubbio. Si occupa di Biblioteche Digitali e formazione in ambito di biblioteconomia digitale. Nel 2014 membro del Comitato Esecutivo Regionale dell’Associazione Italiana Biblioteche (AIB) sezione Umbria, membro del gruppo AIB sul portfolio professionale e nel triennio 2017-2020 Presidente eletto di AIB Umbria. Dal 2020 membro dell'Osservatorio Formazione dell'Associazione Italiana Biblioteche. Autore di diversi articoli e interviste per Insula Europea sul tema degli archivi, delle biblioteche e del digital lending.


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