A Library For Istanbul

It Began As A Hobby Collectıng Books And Manuscrıpts, But Gökhan Özbek Soon Turned It Into A Massive Collection. We Spoke With Him About The Istanbul Library Of Which He Is Founder And Owner.

How did your passion for books begin?
As I see it, collecting is entirely the product of a person’s character.  I come from a generation that has grown up in a technology-intensive digital world. I enjoy the benefits of technology in my personal as well as my business life. At the same time there is an enormous store of knowledge, custom and culture from the past that has brought us to where we are today. And there is no doubt that books are the single entity that best preserves and transmits those values. I enjoy collecting by nature, so I combined my passion with the books that constitute a cultural link between past and present and I started collecting them, taking pains as I did so to collect books about Istanbul as well.

Why such a preference?
I belong to this city. There are representatives of this city’s culture both in the past and today. I made it my goal to be a cultural representative striving to add value to the city in which he lives, and I am going forward in line with that objective. I am trying to achieve my goal through books, the most important symbols of culture.

We live in the age of the internet. Are old printed books still popular and functional in your view?
Yes. Not only that but books can give you far more accurate and useful information than the internet. The knowledge you derive from books sticks in your mind longer and is of higher quality.

How did the idea of sharing your collection arise?
I believe that the more books are used, the more their pages are turned and they are touched by human hands, the more they live. The bottom line is that books are written to be read. As you read them, they enter into communication with you and offer you a valuable asset. If I kept my books at home, very few people would have access to them. I on the other hand have a collection that at the moment is open to anyone who wants it. Knowledge is multiplied and acquires meaning through sharing.

Why have you called the venue where you exhibit your collection Sahaf?
The vocation of the sahaf (secondhand or antiquarian book dealer) is an old one. It’s business is books, appreciating and preserving and them. Many other documents such as engravings, ephemera and old maps come into it. I decided to call my collection Sahaf because I too collect all those items.

How many books are there in your collection at present?
There are more than two thousand books about Istanbul alone. The book collection is also enriched by the first maps of Istanbul going back to the 15th century, as well as engravings and books in twenty different languages ranging from Latin and French to German,  English and Italian.

Who has visited your library?
Frequent visitors include writers, academics, doctoral students and people doing research about Istanbul. One of my biggest sources of pride is a collection of Istanbul photographs signed by Ara Güler on his visit, as well as books signed by Ottoman historian Halil İnalcık. Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay has also visited my collection.

What are your plans for Sahaf?
Sahaf is a living venue. I am trying to develop my collection as much as I can and to enrich it with new books. Among the works in the collection are dozens of books about our culture written in foreign languages. I am planning to have those books translated into Turkish as soon as possible in order of importance and bring them to readers. I even plan to create our own publications.

Among the choice items in the Gökhan Özbek Collection are Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters published in 1633, books of original engravings by Thomas Allom and Miss Pardoe, İnciciyan’s Istanbul Mevsimleri 1815-1820, and the 17th century De Bosporo Thracio.

Gökhan Özbek has close to 2,000 books about Istanbul at his library called Sahaf at the Istanbul Point Hotel on Barbaros Boulevard in coordination with an agency of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality called Istanbul Kitapçısı (Istanbul Bookseller). The library is open to the public weekdays during working hours.