INION, the Soviet-era acronym for the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Science, was founded in 1918 as one of Russia’s top libraries and research centres.
It’s known for its vast holdings of rare Russian books and magazines from the 18th and 19th centuries, and for its big collection of foreign-language books, many not found in any other Russian library, as well as League of Nations documents, papers from the UN and UNESCO and books dating back to the 16th century, seized as war booty from Germany during the Second World War.
The fire that ripped through the third story of the building on Jan. 30 destroyed about two million books, an estimated 15 per cent of the collection. The roof also caved in, putting the rest at risk.
The devastation at INION and the ad hoc salvage process that followed the fire raise questions about the commitment of today’s Russian government to the funding of its archives and libraries, which were near collapse during the financial crisis of the 1990s and have never really been properly resourced since.
As so often happens in Russia, ordinary people have stepped in to fill the vacuum. The librarians are recruiting anyone who is willing to lend a hand hauling books.
Over the course of three weeks in March, the volunteers packed and moved about a million books to a suburban facility in Lybertsy until the INION building is rebuilt.
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