The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation, Istanbul
By Işil Baş and Esra Kazanbas
The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation is the first and only women’s library in Turkey. It was founded in 1989 in order to collect credible and extensive information about women, which in turn contributes to the preservation of women’s histories in Turkey. The Foundation has successfully completed various national and international projects, each of which has enabled the Library to become a venue where researchers from all over the world come for resources about women’s issues. For instance, the library organised an international symposium in 1991 entitled “International Women’s Library Symposium”. This attracted various women’s libraries and organisations across the world, such as the Fawcett Library from the UK, Schlesinger Library from the USA, the Marguerite Durand Library from France, and the Institute on Gender Equality and Women’s History from the Netherlands. In 1996, the British Council supported the library’s oral history project which focused on twelve female politicians born before 1923.
One of the latest activities of the library in the form of a one-day symposium on violence against women, followed by several workshops, has been funded by the Swedish Council and brought together well-known international activists from such significant organisations as the UN Women and ICAN to talk about strategies and implementation of laws protecting women. The 2016 symposium and workshops attracted a great number of participants from Africa, the Americas, the Arab States, Asia, and Europe. These events further emphasise the role of The Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation not only as a resource institution but a critical player in achieving transformative results in gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region.
As the Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation acts as a centre of memory for women’s histories, it welcomes diverse women’s organisations in Turkey, which pluralise women’s identities and agencies, as well as their visibility. In the country, women’s movements and their institutionalisation date back to the late Ottoman period. But although this process has a long history, it is quite fragile in terms of sustainability. The library’s main motive is to excavate “buried” women’s histories in Turkey and protect them for further generations. To this end the library has a wide collection of women’s journals which were published in the late Ottoman period, such as Hanımlara Mahsus Gazete (Gazette Specific to Women) and Kadınlar Dünyası (Women’s World), that throw light on women’s perspectives, struggles and achievements. In addition, the library holds the archives of non-governmental women’s organisations, thereby acting as a resource centre for all national and international feminist activities. KA-DER — an organisation which supports female political candidates in Turkey — is one of the national organisations which has great impact in Turkish politics and keeps all its documents relating to its foundation, activities and publications in the library archives. As the Women’s Library has become a centre for women’s studies, it also holds a collection of 575 MA and PhD theses and 5606 journal articles on women and gender issues, many of which are in English.
The library also takes part in international projects funded by important gender equality bodies. One example is the EU funded FRAGEN (FRAmes on GENder) project, which makes feminist texts from the second wave of feminism in Europe available to researchers in an online database. A four-year project to publish the first Women’s Thesaurus in Turkey was similarly funded jointly by the British and Dutch Consulates and the Global Fund of Women.
The library is recognised by the international women’s libraries and organisations as well. The international visibility of the Women’s Library and Information Centre Foundation is also noted in some issues of international gender-oriented journals like Gender & History and the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies.
Since its foundation the library has had very close connections to English Studies. English and American feminist struggles and their reflection in Anglo-American literature are highly valued, and the works of prominent Anglophone women writers from the 19th century onwards are among its holdings in the original or in translation. There is, for example, a rare edition of The City of the Sultans (1895) by Clara Erskine Clement, a British travel writer. Academics specialised in this area have been serving both on the general and executive boards. For instance, since its establishment in 1992, Mary Berkmen, Assoc. Prof. Selhan Savcıgil, Assoc. Prof. Mary Lou O’Neil Şimsek, Professor Saliha Paker, Tara Hopkins, and Assoc. Prof. Işıl Baş have been on the general board. From 2013 to 2015, Işil Baş (founding president of IDEA, the Turkish association for English Studies) was the chair of the foundation, and she continues to serve on the executive board.
(posted 20 August 2017)