Save the Orphan Books

By Serop Stepanian, Toronto, 10 January 2023

Although electronic ‘books’ are increasing their readership by the day, the traditional book continues to dominate locally and globally. No wonder it has been called “a box of permanent pleasures.” Readers in Armenian may enjoy the Գրքափոխանակումը՝ գործընկեր գրադարանների հարստացման միջոց article posted in present Keghart issue — Eds.

Depending on the source, there are five to six million Armenians outside Armenia. Most live in the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and the Americas. We know the major reasons why they live far from Armenia.

On their journeys into distant lands, Armenians have often taken along books about Armenian history, culture, and politics and for years afterwards some have enriched their private libraries with more books about our nation. As well, some have documents, photos, and artifacts about Armenian history—ancient and modern. While throughout their lives they have been committed to our nation, some (many?) have been less than successful in transmitting their patriotism to their offspring. The major reason for the failure has been the overwhelming and pervasive assimilationist forces. Armenians are not the sole victims of the assimilationist onslaught: other immigrant communities have also been overpowered by the juggernaut of assimilation.

The above situation brings us to the sad topic of what will happen to the countless Armenian books in family mini-libraries when their owners pass?

Recently, an Armenian parent tried to donate some of her books (in Armenian and in English) to an Armenian community library which sells Armenian books on the side. She was told the library couldn’t accept the books because it had no room and because “only an infinitesimal number of people borrow books these days. They Google.” The librarian added that the only Armenia books she could sell were children’s books. Thus, the unloved Armenian books gather dust and mildew in Armenian libraries.

Some people try another tactic to dispose their books. Since their offspring are not interested in the books, the parents try to give the books to friends and acquaintances. The latter probably accept the often-unwanted gift not to hurt the feelings of the donor. Giving Armenian books to friends and acquaintances is a delaying tactic in the face of the inevitable. No one would be surprised if the people who reluctantly accept these books eventually dump them.

Thus, countless Armenian books have become rejected orphans.

It’s redundant to say their loss would be an incalculable loss to our nation.

It’s time diaspora organization leaders and librarians got together and drafted a plan to salvage our books. Perhaps an organization—similar to ‘Himnatram’—should be set up to gather the orphan books, sort them, and ship them to universities and scholarly establishments in Armenia. Considering the high cost of shipping, books of little merit should be discarded.

Some will say the above proposal is defeatist or premature and that it intimates the end of the Armenian Diaspora in a few generations. Time will tell. As a recent Keghart article asked: “Will your Community be Around in Fifty Years?”

Meanwhile, the orphan books have to find a permanent home ASAP.

  1. Exactly. Shame on the organizations that fundraise for new books (that are hand-selected by them) to be purchased and individually shipped to Armenia at a donor’s expense. Sea-bound containers are not prohibitively expensive. Village, town and city libraries (public libraries, school-related and specialty libraries) would be overjoyed to have them. Books in the Armenian language on topics of every sort, including the Armenian language versions of foreign classics. And books in English and other languages, too. What is required is a clearinghouse coordinator and assessment of what each community can best use. It’s a very big job but not insurmountable.

  2. When visiting villages in Armenia and expressing interest in the village’s history, residents often offer me a book of the village history, probably self-published. When I ask where a copy of this book can be purchased, I’m told this is the last one. I decline the generous offer, not wishing to remove the last printed documentation of the village’s history from the village. Yet I’m told Armenian libraries here are interested in getting such village histories for their collections. As many of Armenia’s smaller villages are being abandoned, village histories, both printed and oral, are in danger of being lost. A solution to this issue must be devised.

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