The National Library of Kyrgyzstan/Национальная библиотека Кыргызской Республики
Address: 208 Советская near the National Art Museum
Hours: 9-5 every day, closed on the last Friday of the month
Price: Day Pass is 5 som,
Year-long pass with proper documentation is 30 som.
On the walking tour of Bishkek, the group is taken towards Oak Park, past Zum (the major shopping center), through Victory Park with its Eternal Flame, past the National Art Museum and then, the commanding structure of the National Library of Kyrgyzstan.
The current building housing the library was built in 1984, and it currently holds about 6 million items. This includes documents written in Kyrgyz using the Arabic script that was used at one point in Kyrgyz History, Soviet-era documents (when the script was converted to Cyrillic), an entire section devoted to Kyrgyz Development, an American Corner (these are sponsored, in part, by the US State Department and generally promote the English language and education in many post-Soviet cities), another section with books in over 40 other languages, a scientific periodicals section, a daily periodicals section and others that I may not have seen or noticed.
I was told it used to be a common place to study for university students before the Internet and computers really took hold in Kyrgyzstan. Being a bit of a book worm and curious to visit a place where many of the teachers from London School used to study, I stepped in. When you step into the foyer on the left hand side is a coat check (гардероб) for your bags and heavy winter coats. Then, immediately to the right of the window is a ticket counter. Here you can purchase a day pass or year-long pass. The day pass is 5 som (less than a dime) and they ask for your name which they write on a paper pass that you keep with you throughout the library. When you step into a specific room, there is usually a counter near the door that you leave the pass on which is stamped or signed by the official of that room, on the way out simply pick up your card and move on.
The library’s layout is fairly simple; each of the three floors has a central hall that extends from one end of the building to the other. Along the halls are the various library sections and reading rooms/areas. Some of them, sadly, were locked when I was there without any posted working hours. At both ends of the halls there are marble stair-cases painted a strange pastel green.
The first floor of the library has a children’s room, a Kyrgyzstan development resource center, a scientific periodicals section and attached reading room and an unnamed and apparently largely unused room with some children’s art in it.
The second floor appears to be the main floor. There is a large, open area for reading and accessing a multitude of materials. The room has high ceilings, large windows, and paintings of great Kyrgyz heroes.
The main floor also features the American Corner created by the U.S. Embassy housing a large selection of English language books, board games, a computer lab, and a meeting space. At the other end of the hall is the other section of books in various languages.
The third floor is where one can find the art section which also has a small meeting space and some interesting items like an older record player next to a boom-box. When I visited there, a komuz (a traditional Kyrgyz musical instrument) was also there. Also on this floor are sections devoted to periodicals, one room housed newspapers and another had magazines of all sorts to read.
On the way out of the library I noticed that the foyer also has two “mini-libraries” which are free to use and have a handful of books that apparently work off the take-a-book-leave-a-book principle. I have not heard of these in Bishkek before though so I am unsure, but they were a fun little find on the way out.
The library in general was interesting to see and, for students staying for an extended period of time, a place worth considering doing some studying at, it was quiet and comfortable there. When I visited on a Saturday afternoon, there were not many people.
If you are looking to volunteer in the community, the American Corners are generally good places to do so. They are generally looking for people to lead events, speak about American culture, or otherwise help out. You could also pick up an English book when home-sick or find a fun Russian book elsewhere in the library to practice your Russian skills.
The library also has quite a few events, although you’ll likely have to go to library to look at the postings there to find out about, but it is a nice walk from the school and some of the events look really interesting.