In the spring of 2013 the Russian state library has conducted a tour in a book-depository for the first time in the history. About two hundred lucky who were in time to submit applications for participation in this experiment have visited the subsoil of Leninka and have looked how the main library of the countries is arranged
In the spring of 2013 Russian “Lenin” State Library for the first time in history opened the doors to its book storage department for the tour. About 200 luckiest people who applied to participate in this tour visited deepest corners and could understand how functions the largest library in the country.
Students from Moscow “Rodchenko” Photography School had even better chance: young photographers and video artists got free access to any place inside library and they were proposed to complete their personal projects related to this unique place. I was lucky to be among them.
Until that day I didn’t visit libraries very often… During my school years I lived with my father who loved books very much and our house was filled with books. And if any specific book was not available in our home library it wasn’t very difficult for my father to find practically any book. During my study in University (completely lost time) I didn’t have time for reading, because I was obsessed with extreme sport training and thinking only about that.
So, when I heard the name of Russian “Lenin” State Library, I would have no memories or associations as well as practically no interest.
However right after the very first visit behind the curtain of “Lenin” Library my perception has completely transformed. I was charmed by the atmosphere of this “reserve of an epoch”, it’s size, luxury and complexity.
In the process of working on my project I have decided on two important directions: first of all, to concentrate more on visual aspect and by using light and colors to condense palette in order to be able to show rich elements as well as somewhat strange and sickening atmosphere of that place.
Secondly, after discussions with many staff members I sensed the main semantic tread that I have tried to show in my work: it was the conflict of old and new, people from soviet time and fast changing new technologies. From one hand, library sill has extremely complex “analoque” systems for book orders, like “pneumatic post” and index card catalogs.
Book orders from library visitors get packed in the special containers that travel at high speed through special pipes installed throughout the building. Once the container is received by the library worker the requested book is located and with the help of vertical transport system is delivered to the second level from where it is forwarded finally to the reading room on the chain conveyor.
The library building is 19 stories high and the most valuable collections are located on the 19th floor. The elevator doesn’t go there, so to reach this level you have to walk. Sometimes the visitors complain that to get a book from there it takes few days instead of couple of hours.
Maintaining such a complicated mechanical system is costly and labor intense with very low speed of satisfying book orders, however introduction of new digital information systems has a different problem related to the age of personnel and their adaptability to the modern work environment.
The interview with General Director A.I.Vislyi just confirmed my observations: “The word “library” if of feminine gender, so retirement age is 55. So it looks like the Russian “Lenin” State Library will retire in about 7-8 years when the average age exceeds 55. We are going through stuff reduction and especially in the area where we really need stuff – customer service. The second aspect of the same problem is related to female personnel. Reading halls are all equipped with computers, but women who work there are 50-60 years old and they saw these computers only 3-5 years ago. Obviously they are not very comfortable and productive with computers. On the other side among our visitors are 18-20 years old students who use computers since their childhood. So, we are witnessing clear generation gap.”
Obviously this type of personnel significantly influences the décor of working spaces. Regardless of strict rules female workers decorate their working spaces with small statues, soft toys, icons as well as pictures of kittens. Some of women even keep real cats inside the library while hiding them in far corners of the library building.
Inside the library walls some legends get born. The most popular of them is the story of “walking spirit” of bibliographer Nikolai Rubakin who donated to “Lenin” Library huge collection of books. According to rumors once in the evening when female worker was getting the book from Rubakin’s collection the door to this storage space opened and closed by itself, almost like someone invisible just walked in. There are also rumors that remains of Rubakin’s body were transferred to the library, so it would be closer to his collection.
Among visitors to the library there are many older or truly old people. You can also find there some strange permanent visitors and even local mentally sick people. Sleeping visitors is quite usual picture inside the library. Sleeping on sofas located in corridors or simply on the open book is very usual. It is possibly related to the fact that books can’t be taken outside of library and quite, comfortable environment makes it difficult to stay awake for many hours.
© Bleek Magazine. Text and all the images: Dmitry Lookianov. Translation: Mikhail Kudish.