BY ELISE KALFAYAN
The global village created by the world wide web gives the Armenian Diaspora great opportunities to connect, but it also poses challenges to identity. May’s Facebook IPO in some ways reflects the village’s condition today – its financial prospects are questionable and its loyalties indefinable. In contrast, libraries throughout the world are rich in cultural resources and committed to serving the public. Library professionals like Sylva Natalie Manoogian use electronic tools, but understand that the core mission of libraries extends far beyond digital information.
All that said, I found Sylva Manoogian through Facebook! I knew she had established an Armenian collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. After “retirement,” she was a consultant to the Glendale Public Library, helping to create a genocide resource collection there. She is a founding and lifetime member of the Armenian Library Association and an advocate for Armenian libraries wherever they may be.
In a Facebook message to her, I asked about donating a crumbling 1908 Armenian dictionary to a research library. She replied that UCLA already had a copy, in storage, and digitized. We later connected in person, and I learned she was pursuing a doctorate at UCLA. In June 2012, she will be defending her dissertation, “The Calouste Gulbenkian Library, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, 1925-1990: A Socio-Cultural History of a Monastic Intellectual Resource Center for the Armenian Diaspora.”
Libraries are an indispensible resource for the global community and its Armenians wherever they are; Manoogian’s entire career demonstrates that conviction. She says, “My doctoral work is giving me a unique opportunity to pay tribute to our great visionary religious, literary, and community leaders, in whose life literacy and continuing education have played a significant role.”
Manoogian has researched the full story of the personal devotion, Armenian church connections and philanthropy contacts which built that library in Jerusalem. It has since been a key resource for many distinguished scholars and theologians. Several years ago I published reviews of two books by noted early church historian Abraham Terian. When I mentioned Terian, Manoogian of course knew that he had spent considerable time at the Jerusalem library and in fact had a dedicated space there.
Others who have used the library are Robert Thompson (Calouste Gulbenkian Armenian Studies Scholar at Oxford), Bedros Der Matossian of the University of Nebraska, and Michael Stone, Director Emeritus of the Armenian Studies Program at Hebrew University.
Manoogian has reviewed the library’s visitors log [Vosgemadian, “Golden Book”], which reflects the influence of political events over the decades and the global importance of its collections. She has made 23 trips to Jerusalem since 1992 on her mission to revitalize and internationalize the library as an important resource center for the Armenian world.
Manoogian is celebrating much more than completion of her doctoral degree this year. She was instrumental in encouraging colleagues to write the proposal nominating Yerevan as the 2012 UNESCO World Book Capital. This undertaking required significant government support, and a year-long commitment which began on the eve of this year’s genocide commemoration, April 23, and extends to April 22 of 2013. It also coincides with the 500th Anniversary of the Armenian Printed Book (1512-2012).
Manoogian and I discussed all this and much more on the steps of the Glendale Central Library. She is working a book project to commemorate the work of her human rights activist father Shahan Natalie. She attended the May 19 AIWA/Los Angeles symposium on the evolving role of media and told me the guest speaker, journalist Silva Sevlian, had several insights on how globalization and public diplomacy are affecting the Armenian Diaspora (a theme of her own on-going research). The Glendale Public Library itself had just hosted a May 19 day-long ARPA conference on current issues facing Armenia and the Diaspora.
Although she understands the value of digitization for preservation purposes, and for offering resources to the far reaches of the Diaspora, Manoogian also strongly values the physical aspect of books and other printed information available in libraries. On the cusp of big changes at UCLA, she was offered the choice of her doctoral title. Whereas now UCLA enrolls doctoral candidates in “Information Sciences” she asked that her degree be awarded in “Library and Information Sciences.”
Libraries are where cultural resources are primarily preserved, studied, and available to all. “Digital and economic trends indeed seem to dominate the global library scene these days, but libraries and librarians as we know them still have critical roles to play,” emphasizes Manoogian. Her continuing mission with Armenian libraries here and abroad is to get involved with programming for youth that educates, enlightens, informs, and makes them proud of their culture and heritage.
As for Facebook, the IPO, and the many other electronic businesses compiling social and even educational resources: these have been established primarily for profit, not cultural enrichment. Their tools have made it easier for people like me and Sylva Manoogian to connect, but they are no substitute for the enduring public trust embodied in the mission of libraries from Glendale to Jerusalem to Yerevan.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.