Magazine article American Libraries

Building a Pipeline to Education in Azerbaijan: How Library Service Is Burgeoning in the Oil-Rich Nation

Magazine article American Libraries

Building a Pipeline to Education in Azerbaijan: How Library Service Is Burgeoning in the Oil-Rich Nation

Article excerpt

There is money in Azerbaijan and plenty of it. Petroleum wealth mostly. Two-thirds of the country is rich in oil and natural gas, and Western companies are tapping oil fields in the Caspian Sea that the Communist regime left untouched during the 70 years Azerbaijan spent as a part of the Soviet Union.

Change is accelerating since independence in 1991. By 2008, Azerbaijan had become a world leader in financial reform, halving the red tape required to start a business. The skyline of the capital city, Baku, reveals a jaw-dropping building boom, with apartment complexes and condominiums rising more quickly than they can be occupied. The city is building hotels, museums, and parks, and a formidable new convention center opened in 2012. A bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics is in motion. Foreign investors are jumping in.

How has all this oil wealth affected the nation's libraries? Opened in 2013, the state-of-the-art library on the campus of the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy University (ADAU) is a prime example of the country's emerging emphasis on investment in education for international business. The stunning facility is at the center of a growing university campus that went from approximately 70 students in 2011 to 700 in 2013. Provost Patrick Quinn says the soaring growth knows no bounds, and 95% of the students are Azeri. The library's bookholdings have already shot up to 40,000, and plenty of shelf space is available for more material to support what ADAU Rector Hafiz Pashayev calls "a world-class institution dedicated to preparing innovative global leaders in diplomacy, public and international affairs, business, humanities, and computer sciences." The campus will be two or three times its current size in a few years, says Quinn.

"We're moving along very quickly with everything," says Library and Information Services Dean Martha Speirs. She came to the ADAU in 2011 specifically to develop the library, implement systems, hire staff, and stock the shelves with help from Blackwell Library Services. Despite the constant adjustments and rapid growth, or perhaps because of it, Speirs says, "it is exciting to be a part of something this vital." Originally from Massachusetts, she has enjoyed an 18 -year career in international librarianship that began with a stint at the American University in Cairo in 1996.

The library has attracted a talented and enthusiastic professional staff of eight, six of whom earned MLS degrees from Baku State University, Azerbaijan's only library school. In addition, during its 65 service hours each week, the library employs six part-time student assistants, all of whom are eager to speak English and to transition to Western-style library operations. "Every library serves a community," says Speirs, "patrons, clients, or customers. It has to be about service." Since ADAU's mission is to prepare students for global interaction, much of the collection is in English.

Designed by the US firm of EYP, which was the architectural firm for the entire campus, the library is a modern, multimedia student learning center with inviting study areas, a comfortable cafe, and regular programs and exhibits. It's like walking into a first-rate medium-sized public library in the US, except that the collection is focused on ADAU's six undergraduate degree programs: information technologies and systems engineering; computer science; international affairs; public affairs; business administration; and science in economics. Visitors to the library are greeted by a statue of Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev, considered the father of the country. His son, Ilham Aliyev, was elected to succeed him in 2003 and continues as president, his popularity bolstered by profitable oil deals with companies like British Petroleum.

Other libraries in Baku (a city in which 25% of Azerbaijan's 9.1 million people live) are also moving, slowly and unsurely, into new models of library service. …

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