There are more than 1,000 public libraries in Turkey in addition to university and school libraries. The public library system is run by the General Directorate's Office for Libraries and Publications under the Ministry of Culture. Many municipalities also run their own public libraries, and 209 Turkish universities have 610 libraries.
Istanbul’s Beyazıt State Library is considered Turkey's first public university. It was founded as Kütüphane-i Umumi Osmani (The Ottoman Public Library) by royal decree in 1884. It is the first model of the Turkish National Library, which is now called the Presidential Library, in the capital Ankara.
The Millet Library was founded in Istanbul in 1916 with a private donation of 16,000 books by famous bibliophile Ali Emiri Efendi but has never functioned as a national library. It has been rather a special library for experts, especially because of the manuscripts and printed volumes in the old Turkish alphabet. Currently titled the Millet Manuscript Library, the image of the library has traditionally been attached to its founder, Emiri Efendi, who made great efforts to help collect the Turkish heritage of written materials.
Emiri was born in 1857 in southeastern Diyarbakır to a notable “Sayyid” family – descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima. One of his remote ancestors, Sayyid Mehmed Emiri, was an outstanding local poet of Diyarbakır, which was one of the cultural centers of the Ottoman Empire.
Emiri received an elementary education before being admitted to the Sulukiyye Madrassa. He also received private lessons from his uncles Şaban Kafi and Feyzullah Feyzi. He learned Arabic and Persian privately. He moved to Mardin from Diyarbakır to continue his studies with scholars, including Ahmed Hilmi Efendi. He advanced his knowledge in Arabic and Persian. In addition, he began to write poems in the older style.
In 1875, Ali Emiri became a telegram operator after completing the required courses. Meanwhile, he read numerous history books and tried to write poems in Arabic after reading the great Arabic classics. In 1876, he wrote a special eulogy for the coronation of Ottoman Sultan Murad V, which was an old tradition for public servants looking for a promotion thanks to their literary skills. The official newspaper of Diyarbakır published this work, which helped him become a young local celebrity.
In 1878, Emiri entered the office of Abidin Pasha as a clerk during his visit to Diyarbakır. He moved with the pasha and visited Ottoman vilayets such as Harput, Sivas and Salonica. He became a financial auditor and visited many provinces for inspections in the later period.
Until his voluntary retirement after the 1908 revolution, also known as the Young Turk Revolution, Ali Emiri worked as a public agent and administrator for more than 30 years, covering the entire Abdülhamid II era (1876-1909). His voluntary retirement seems to have been decided as a precaution against possible ill-treatment by the Committee of Unity and Progress, which would have fired him anyway because of his long service under Abdülhamid II.
Emiri, although he worked as a telegram operator shortly before he dedicated his life to the financial inspection of public offices, was a self-made librarian and a great bibliophile of the Turkish language. He can also be considered a historian of manuscripts. He explored some great manuscripts including Turkic scholar Mahmud of Kashgar’s “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” ("Compendium of the Turkic Languages"), which is one of the most significant reference books on the history of the Turkish language.
However, the lifework of Emiri was the Millet Library, which he established with 16,000 books he donated at his own expense. He directed the library until his death. This library still operates and serves researchers as a library of manuscripts and printed material in the old Turkish alphabet.
Emiri worked as the chairperson and member of some councils for collecting and classifying national written heritage. He developed a special classification method, which would be named after him, for the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Though Emiri could not become a renowned poet, he gained a good reputation for his prose work. He mainly published biographical and bibliographical volumes including “Poems by the Ottoman Sultans,” “Diyarbakır Poets,” “Biographies of Some Notable Persona of Diyarbakır,” “Epitaphs of Mardin" and “Memoirs from Yemen."
Emiri died on Jan. 23, 1924, in Istanbul. His grave is in the cemetery of the Fatih Mosque.