Russia - part two
I represented IFLA at three professional events while I was in Russia last week. At the round table in St Petersburg we discussed library associations and partnerships with libraries. In Moscow the topic was Flagship projects shaping the future of libraries. The ALMA foresight session was called Shaping the future of libraries. It was so valuable to hear what is happening in libraries in Russia and to meet so many great colleagues. Many of the issues raised in the forums were familiar – transforming libraries, ensuring access to those with print disability, partnerships, and preservation.
There was a big emphasis at these forums on strengthening library associations. Colleagues from the United States, Czech Republic and Latvia described what their national associations were engaged in. Library associations in Russia are more focussed on institutions and there is a debate beginning on the role of individual membership and what that might mean. There are a number of associations that cover different sectors, for example school libraries as well as a new association promoting reading for children.
During the forums there were two public library projects described that have the potential to revolutionise service delivery in Russia. The St Petersburg network of public libraries has achieved the milestone of a single library card and website for 197 public libraries. There is a clear direction to emphasise libraries as art and family spaces - 3rd places where culture occurs.
In Moscow, the Russian State Library is driving the Development of Network of Public Library project which involves the upgrading of 660 public libraries over the next 3 years with a budget of 10 million euro. Model libraries are being established and it is a shared responsibility with federal and regional matching funding. Libraries enjoy good support from the federal Ministry of Culture.
The library leaders I met are committed to change the focus of libraries being on collections, to being on people. The recent Library Night, when the major libraries were open all night, was a big success and the long queues of people that formed to participate indicates the great public interest in the library.
After visiting a number of major libraries in Russia and reflecting on the differences with libraries in Australia, the main things that strike me are the richness, scale and history of the collections and buildings; the respect and acknowledgement of the history of libraries; and the proud tradition and deep history of the profession. And the things that are the same are the resourcing of libraries, encouraging young professionals and understanding the need for advocacy.
The major challenges for Russian libraries appear to be maintaining buildings and collections and this is due to the sheer scale of the libraries. Vast buildings and huge collections including many old, rare and precious items brings special demands.
Libraries are also interested in partnering with other organisations, and I met Denis Kotov, founder and former CEO of the St Petersburg bookstore chain. Denis is now a board member of the Russian Book Union and is passionate about promoting books and reading. The Russian Book Union is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation founded in 2001 and includes all players in the book industry. The RBU is already working with libraries to promote books and is keen to further develop the partnership.
I would like to thank the Russian Library Association and the Russian State Library for the invitation to visit and especially thank Svetlana Gorokhova for organising such a marvellous program.
Photo: Participants at the ALMA foresight session outside the Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow.