The National Library of Kyrgyzstan Has the Nicest Librarians

The National Library of Kyrgyzstan Has the Nicest Librarians

I had fond memories of the librarians in Bishkek. My first trip there, during my Fulbright year in 2010, I went to the National Library of Kyrgyzstan with my research assistant Abay and we were waited on hand and foot. Maybe they were just super thrilled to have a foreign scholar asking about texts nobody ever touched, but the librarians helped us find falconry books with what seemed like personal fascination, scouring their shelves and delighting every time they found another musty hardcover to stack before us. They even let me take photos of some of the books, hush hush, and when they found that the library had a digital copy of one of them, they put it on a flash drive for me. Then I was struck by tragedy: the hard drive where I kept all these finds was corrupted, and the devotion of my new librarian partners was rendered futile. The books were gone.

I was back in Kyrgyzstan for the Salburun Festival, and at last I found a moment to redeem that awful accident. The librarians didn’t seem to remember me this time, but they were smitten at my attempts to speak Kyrgyz and again took up my mission with aplomb. I was led to a computer room and personally introduced to its attendant, who then searched the catalog term by term for the kind of material I was looking for. I certainly could have done this myself, but the personal service was of course appreciated. When we finally found some results, the librarian working in this 21st century computer lab had to go over to another wing of the library and bring back a stack of index cards from the mid 20th. These cards led me to the archive, where the books had to then be retrieved by another librarian lady.

The “archive” of the National Library of Kyrgyzstan looks like the one at my high school.

Sitting in the narrow hallway of the archive, I was able to take a few pictures for my bibliography, but I’ll need to go back to the library with some more time on my hands to really dig into the texts (I came late in the afternoon, and the booklords were all itching to go home). What I did find was wonderful. I’ve added these all to the Other Texts section, but here’s the short-and-sweet. The first was a vanity project from the late Issyk Kul falconer Sagymbai Zarnaiev, A Guide to the Art of Falconry, Eagle and Falconry Husbandry, Training and HuntingA falconer from the next generation, Aldayarbek Abdybekov, also put out his own manual, called The Falconer, and that was the second book I was able to find. I had found a digital copy before of the third book, Kyrgyz Falconry, but this was the first time I saw it in print. My last find was fictional, a book of short stories about falconry by the famous Manaschi Sayakbai Karalaiev.

To some, this is a row of undecipherable books. To me, it’s gold.

Documenting these works for my bibliography, I was thrilled by the existence of new sources, but I was also hit by the vertigo of knowing that here were four big books that I knew I may never have time to really sit down and fully digest. They were all in Kyrgyz, a language I’m still shaky at, and though I could photograph the covers, the bulk of the texts still lay unread in Bishkek’s library. What I hope, perhaps unrealistically, is that there might be some falconry enthusiast somewhere down the line who gets excited about the work I’ve already done and wants to dive into the literature themselves. If they do, I can promise them one thing: the librarians are there to hold your hand.