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A Model Library In Tehran, Iran: The Hosseinieh Ershad Public Library A Model Library In Tehran, Iran: The Hosseinieh Ershad Public Library

floral device Abstract

This paper describes the public library established shortly after the Islamic Revolution, an independent institution connected to the Hosseinieh Ershad mosque. It is open to all, and well used by students, children, and workers; circulation is about 9,000 per month. Religious materials predominate in the collection, which consists of some 60,000 volumes and 350 periodical subscriptions, but there are also general materials in many languages. There is a special collection for the blind, and a busy children’s section with more than 10,000 volumes. Ten librarians are on the staff, along with technicians and maintenance personnel. An excellent relationship between the governing board and the library staff has helped to make this one of the outstanding libraries in the country.

floral device Introduction

A recent visit to Iran, on the occasion of the 7th Tehran International Book Fair, offered the opportunity to visit libraries and to meet with numerous Iranian librarians. Among the libraries visited, one library stood out over other fine libraries for its organization and collections. This is the library connected with the Hosseinieh Ershad mosque, a public library established in Tehran shortly after the Islamic Revolution. Hosseinieh Ershad is an independent institution dedicated exclusively to research and to offering service to the Iranian people. The mission of the library is to develop and increase its readers’ knowledge of Islam and to serve them with the information they need regarding their religious questions.

The library is one of Tehran’s 13 public libraries, which serve a population of more than seven million. Because it is the library of a mosque, the library of the Hosseinieh Ershad is a religious library. Like most mosque libraries, this library is considered a public library because it serves “public needs.” A private institution fully open to the public, this library has no connection with other local libraries. Patrons of the library are mainly university students, young people preparing for the university entrance exams, children, and workers.

floral device Beginnings

In 1980, the trustees of Hosseinieh Ershad realized that the institution needed a library in order to fulfill its purpose. Once they decided to establish a library, the trustees searched for a librarian able to assist them in their plan. They found the person with the desired qualifications and experience in library and information science in Parviz Azem, who had also spent some time abroad studying and training (see Figure 1). Mr. Azem is the modern type of Iranian librarian: he is not the old type of scholar/librarian, but a professional librarian who has been trained in library science and exposed to the methods used in the West.

The Director in his office
Figure 1: The Director in his office.

Beginning with nothing, the newly appointed library director started to build this library; he wrote down what was needed in order to have a library and then started planning. However, the trustees of the Hosseinieh Ershad did not believe that a lay professional could plan a library by himself for their institution; therefore, they employed two members of the Islamic clergy to assist the new librarian in this task. This collegial planning lasted approximately six months; in the end, the board of trustees accepted all recommendations made by their new library director. This happened after the members of the Board became assured that he was capable of organizing and directing a public library according to their ideals and goals. After most of the planning was completed, it took Parviz Azem about one year to purchase the equipment and materials needed for the new institution. The library opened in 1981 with 400 square meters of floor space (including the stack area) and 40 seats. Its staff consisted of the director and two assistants, and its collections amounted to approximately 4,000 volumes and 20 periodical subscriptions.

floral device Bibliographic Control

Today, five catalogers provide bibliographic control to the library’s collections (see Figure 2). All five hold undergraduate library science degrees, and three are currently engaged in pursuing master’s degrees in library and information science. While the library used a manual system with a card catalog when it started, today cataloguing functions are automated using FoxPro. Materials are classified in the Dewey Decimal System, which has been enhanced by the Iranian National Library in the areas pertaining to Iranian history, Iranian politics and government, and Iranian literature. As for subject headings, the library uses a Persian subject heading list and the Sears List of Subject Headings. Shahla Emami is the head of the Technical Services Department. This young librarian, who is also in charge of the library’s automation, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in library and information science.

The cataloging staff
Figure 2: The cataloging staff.

floral device The Collections and Their Ciruclation

Islamic literature is the main focus of the collection, which is also strong in languages, science, and local history. Books in English number about 4,000, and there are many books in French, German, and Turkish. While there are no books in comparative religions, the library has numerous books about different Islamic sects. Book circulation varies depending on the time of the year. When schools are in session, books on social issues and history are used more than those on other subjects. On the average, the library now circulates 9,000 books per month. While the library draws the majority of its users from within a radius of two kilometers, people from throughout Tehran use the library.

All librarians are involved in collection development. Book selection is done with the mission of the library and the needs of patrons in mind. New books are selected from bibliographies, publishers’ catalogs, and book reviews in journals. They are purchased from book stores, publishers, private collectors, and from the annual Tehran International Book Fair, which offers a large selection of the latest publications. In spring 1994, the librarians bought 500 books from the Fair. Naturally, the library also accepts gifts.

The library has two reading rooms: the one for women is in the large entry hall, where the circulation desk and the card catalog are located (see Figure 3); the reading room for men is a spacious hall at the center of the library. Green plants and two large crystal chandeliers make the men’s reading room especially attractive (see Figure 4).

The women’s reading room
Figure 3: The women’s reading room.


The men’s reading room
Figure 4: The men’s reading room.

Serials occupy a separate section of the library. An experienced librarian serves this area, which has its own reading room and separate stacks for the periodicals, all beautifully bound in dark red leather with gold lettering. Current issues of periodicals are displayed on open shelves in the serials reading room. The serials librarian, who will soon have an assistant, provides reference service to the public, checks in journals, and takes care of claiming missing issues. Serials control is made easier by the use of a Kardex file. The library has a small in–house book repair facility, but the majority of books are sent out for binding. The two janitors employed by the library keep the facility clean, make sure the books are dust–free, and do maintenance work.

Books are kept in closed stacks, with the exception of some special collections, such as the reference collection, children’s books, books for the blind, and books on Persian art, which are shelved on open shelves. The stacks are closed to the public, since the majority of the 1ibrary’s users are not familiar with an open–stack system. Closed shelves prevent books from being reshelved incorrectly or stolen (in most European and Asian libraries, open shelves are only used for reference books). Currently, the library does not offer photocopying to its users.

The circulation section is found in a large hall at the entrance of the library. The circulation desk is a busy place at all times, since the book stacks are located behind it. Because the stacks are closed to users, three members of the circulation staff are in charge of retrieving books for patrons. The circulation functions will be computerized soon.

In order to check out books, patrons have to be members of the library. This membership is readily available to anyone regardless of their religion, age, or education. All that is required is completion of an application form, submission of three photographs, and payment of a yearly membership fee of 4,500 rials (equivalent to approximately $1.80). The use of books within the library is unlimited, while borrowing books is restricted to two books for a period of two weeks. This borrowing policy is matched by an equally liberal unwritten late–return policy. If a patron is late in returning a book, a circulation assistant calls the borrower at home twice before sending out a notice by mail. There is no fine for returning books late, but patrons with an overdue book are prohibited from using the library until they return the overdue book. In the case of lost books, patrons are required to pay for replacements.

floral device Service to Special Patrons

The library has a special collection for the blind, which consists of 150 volumes in Braille and 300 tapes or (talking books). A blind patron can borrow two books and five tapes at a time for a period of two weeks. Blind patrons are not required to pay the membership fee and the library offers them free home delivery of library materials through the mail.

The children’s section (see Figure 5), which occupies a separate area of the library, has more than 10,000 volumes; these are used mainly during the three summer months, when school children are on vacation. Children between the ages of seven and 14 use this special facility. They can check out an unlimited number of books and usually return them very soon to the library. During the summer, the library offers special programs for children, such as painting and calligraphy lessons, or the opportunity to organize and stage a play. Besides these summer activities, every two months the library presents a lecture for children and young adults; these programs are often directed by the young people themselves. An example of the topics treated in such lectures is a talk about mental health presented by an invited professor. The Hosseinieh Ershad pays the library for its use by children and teachers. While it has no relation with the governmental Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, the children’s section uses the Institute’s method in choosing books and offering services.

The children&rs;s section
Figure 5: The children’s section.

floral device Funding and Staff

The library depends on the Hosseinieh Ershad for its financial needs. Funding is provided by the members of the board of trustees, all well–educated and wealthy men. While the library has a base budget, in reality its budget has no real limit, since any need suggested by the library director is met by the board. Last year, the library spent approximately 1,000,000 tomans on new books (something like US$4,000). Compared to Western prices, books are inexpensive in Iran. The Iranian government is so interested in, and supportive of, people receiving an education that it subsidizes many publishing enterprises. The library’s accounting system is easy: the library simply sends the invoices to the accounting department of the Hosseinieh Ershad for payment.

Although staff members are employed according to the Iranian general social insurance policy, overall they enjoy better working conditions than government employees. Their salaries are higher than those of public servants and full retirement is available after 30 years of service. Library staff members work 40 hours per week and have the same one–month annual vacation as government employees. The library’s personnel consists of the director; the assistant director, who is in charge of technical services and automation; a serials librarian; five catalogers; a circulation librarian and three circulation assistants; a children’s librarian; a security guard; and two janitors.

In the 14 years that have elapsed since its founding in 1981, the Hosseinieh Ershad Public Library has experienced a remarkable growth. Today the library occupies an area of 1,773 square meters and can seat 250 users. The library’ collections have grown to 60,000 volumes and 350 periodical subscriptions. Fourteen staff members, most of them trained librarians, serve the public. Conversations with several of them revealed a keen interest in automation a a means of offering better service to users. Interest in the use of the lates technological innovations is just one aspect of the professionalism and dedication one can observe in Iranian librarians. Once assured that it had chosen the right professional to head the library, the board of trustees of the Hosseinieh Ershad has been fully supportive of all his initiatives and has made his administration of the library easy. This understanding and cooperation between the board of the parent institution and the library director has benefitted the development and reputation of the library. The staff is highly motivated and dedicated to its work. According to Parviz Azem, staff members consider themselves privileged to serve patrons, and think of the library as “heaven on earth and the best place in the world.” Therefore, it is not surprising that, in the opinion of patrons, the library of the Hosseinieh Ershad is considered to be one of Tehran’s best public libraries.

floral device About the Author

Nicoletta Mattioli Hary is Associate Director for Technical Services and Coordinator of Book Acquisitions, University of Dayton (Ohio) Libraries. She has a Certificate in Classical Studies, Liceo Classico di Stato, Civitavecchia, Italy; a Diploma in Library Science, Vatican Library School; a doctorate in German Language and Literature, Istituto Universitario Orientate, Naples; and a Ph.D. in Library and Information Science, Indiana University. Her earlier experience included the University of Notre Dame Libraries and U.S. Information Service Library, Rome. Dr. Hary is a Lecturer in the library school at Indiana University. She has published widely in professional journals.

© 1995 Nicoletta Mattioli Hary.


Hary, Nicoletta Mattioli “A Model Library In Tehran, Iran: The Hosseinieh Ershad Public Library,” Third World Libraries, Volume 6, Number 1 (Fall 1995).

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