Köprülü Library is remarkable as it was the first library in Ottoman Istanbul to be housed in a separate building and also due to the fact that it led the way for this type of library to become standard. Moreover, other new practices that were included were that the library staff was paid higher salaries, and they were prohibited from performing tasks that were unrelated to the library. On the other hand, it should also be noted that Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s untimely death, before the completion of the planned külliye, which included this library, could in part be the reason why the Köprülü Library is housed in a separate building. When Köprülü Mehmed Pasha died in 1661, he had only finished the madrasa, bath house (hamam) and tomb sections of this complex. Working from his father’s will, Mehmed’s son Fazıl Ahmed Pasha tried to complete the külliye. As a book enthusiast himself, he combined the books left by his father with his own and placed this rich collection in the library he had had constructed next to his father’s tomb.

However, due to Fazıl Ahmed Pasha’s death at a very young age (November 3, 1676), the opening of the library was delayed. Köprülü Library could only officially be opened according to the waqfiyya (endowment deed) prepared by Fazıl Mustafa Pasha in 1678.

The books donated by Köprülü Mehmed Pasha to the library have an endowment seal, dated 1661, the year of the pasha’s death. M. Gökman argues that the number of books in Köprülü Library with such a seal is no more than ten. It seems that Mehmed Pasha, who had established earlier libraries in mosques in Bozcaada and Safranbolu, either had not prepared the books that he had planned to give to his library in Istanbul or that he had died before putting his own endowment seal on them.

Köprülü library

It can be seen in the waqfiyya prepared by Fazıl Mustafa Pasha that a special staff was dedicated to working only in the library in the separate building. Compared to the circumstances of the late-seventeenth century, a quite satisfactory salary was paid to this personnel, which consisted of three librarians, one bookbinder and one gatekeeper. The salaries for the Köprülü Library (1678) librarians were stated in the waqfiyya as amounting to a certain amount of kuruş per month.

The number of books available in the libraries that had been established in the first half of the seventeenth century increased considerably. The highest increase seen in the endowment libraries took place when the Köprülü Library was opened (1678), with more than 2,000 books at the time of its establishment.

In the waqfiyya of Köprülü Library, the number of days that the library was opened was increased to three and the working hours were determined as being “from sunrise until late afternoon.”

The book donations by members of the same family continued during the years following the establishment of the library. In his waqfiyya prepared in 1737, Hafız Ahmed Pasha, a member of the Köprülü family donated approximately 500 books to this library. Mehmed Âsım Bey from the Köprülü family, who was one of the trustees of the Köprülü Library, donated 350 books as well as new sources of revenue to Köprülü library in his waqfiyya, dated 1805. According to statements in the waqfiyya. Mehmed Âsım Bey had seen that some books which were often used by students had gone missing from the library, and thus he purchased new copies to replace them. He also reserved some money for the purchase of books that might be needed in the future. According to the expenditure records of this library, a copy of Hâşiye-i Fenârî was bought for the library in July 1835, and a Takvîm-i Vekâyi newspaper was also purchased for the library sometime in 1838 or 1839. Since the title of these records was mesârif-i gayr-ı mu‘tad (unusual expenses), we can infer that not many books were bought for the library. The existence of only three purchase records for books in four years of expenditures also supports this argument.

The waqfiyya of the Köprülü Library contains ambiguity about loan policies, and this issue has still to be resolved. When this document is compared to the waqfiyyas of older libraries, it becomes evident that the regulations of the library concerning book loans “were not regarded as a step forward in loaning policies in the history of Turkish library sciences,” but rather an attempt to regulate a practice which had been in place for a few centuries. Although there was at the beginning a restrictive phrase in the waqfiyya, reading “taşra ihrâc itmeyüp ve itdürmeyüp” (not allowing them to leave the library), this ban was softened and some exemptions were allowed, letting the books leave the library. This was because the more flexible practices of other libraries were taken into consideration, and because it was understood that students could only supply the books they needed by copying the books they borrowed from the library. When absolutely necessary, it was possible to loan books from the library to trustworthy people, provided that the endowment trustee was informed and a strong guarantor or surety was provided.

There are very valuable and rare books in the rich collection of the Köprülü Library. Fazıl Ahmed Pasha, who was a scholar as well as a statesman, gathered an exclusive collection. In addition to rare books in Arabic, Turkish and Persian, there are also handwritten books by many famous scholars.

There are two catalogues for the Köprülü Library: the first one was prepared during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid I and the second one has recently been prepared by Ramazan Şeşen and colleagues.1


1 For more information about the library and resources, see: İsmail E. Erünsal, “Köprülü Kütüphanesi”, DİA, vol. 26,pp. 257-258; M. Gökman, Kütüphanelerimizden Notlar, Istanbul: Kardeşler Basımevi, 1952, pp. 33-36, 43-48; Müjgân Cunbur, “Vakfiyelere Göre Eski Türk Kütüphanelerinin Yünetimi”, TKDB, vol. 11, no. 1-2 (1962), pp. 3-4; Ramazan Şeşen, Cevat İzgi and Cemil Akpınar, Köprülü Kütüphanesi Yazmalar Kataloğu, III vol., Istanbul: İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi (IRCICA), 1986.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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