News from INION: Taking out Books and Some Other Events

This week I had to make a short break with this website, but events at my institute (Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, INION) and around it have meanwhile been moving swiftly all these days.  On the previous Thursday we finally took out the books and documents from the study of the head of our Department of History.  The study was on the first floor and hadn’t suffered from the fire.  The storage with the production of our typography is said to have burned, so it’s in this study that the only copies of many publications of our department have survived.

At the same time we got an opportunity to see the ground floor and partly the first floor at the damaged part of the building.  The view is oppressive.  Mud all around, no ceiling overhead, frozen flows of water and pieces of half-burned pages underfoot.  Some rooms are really life-threatening to come in—too many heavy things can fall down from above at any moment.  The damaged part of the main book depository can be seen through a hole in a wall at the ground floor—it seems that it was mostly the book depository that was burning at the ground floor and at the first floor.

On the same day we were told the Institute had finally got a new building for temporary housing not far from the old one and we would move there the next (which is already this) week.  They say it’s in a terrible condition, but it’s better than nothing anyway.

Meanwhile ‘professional patriots’ go on attacking our director Yuri Pivovarov in the mass media and at the State Duma (we are still trying to understand what it could mean), and the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations (FANO) seems to have recovered from the initial fright (earlier than we hoped, unfortunately) and turned to a decisive counter-offensive using heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft.  The same Thursday Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted the head of FANO Mikhail Kotiukov that ‘overall responsibility for the liquidation of the consequences of the fire lies with the administration of INION’.  Does it mean they aren’t going to help us at all, although FANO is our only sponsor and our Institute is officially subordinated to it?  By the way, INION still receives no additional financing for that very liquidation of the consequences of the fire, we have no money to buy furniture and computers for our new building.  Do they suppose us to use our own salary for it?

A week earlier the minister of education and science Livanov had said almost literary that the fire at INION was the best evidence that the scientists could not manage their own property well and that the ‘reform’ of the Russian Academy of Sciences was really necessary (he calls it nothing less than ‘the main event in our science for the last twenty years’).  Of course those persons prefer not to mention their own ‘effectiveness’ although our Institute (and many other institutes as well) received almost a half of the financing for 2014 in the fall of the year.  Where that money had been the most part of the year and who received the dividends—nobody knows.

It wasn’t all.  After a session of our directorate on Sunday (!) it was said, firstly, that this week we would have to start not only moving to the new building, but at the same time taking the books off the old building (which we were not able to do up to now otherwise than in small shipments because the investigators continued their work in the building).  The motivation is the FANO insists us to leave the old building as soon as possible.  It seems they have finally decided to pull it down.  It’s a pity, but it was predictable, unfortunately.

Secondly, it was said our administration is now required to work without days-off and that the representatives of the FANO had already visited our new building and were very angry as they hadn’t seen our employees there.  I don’t want to comment on this, but I’m afraid I have to.  I don’t mind to sit on the floor in an empty room with a book and a laptop computer without Internet all the working day, but only if those persons from the FANO take the books out of our book depository on the week-end together with us.  But I’m afraid it’s too much for them to do that.

And even this was not all.  On Monday afternoon (23 February, that is still a holiday in Russia, since the Soviet time) we were suddenly said the beginning of taking out books from our damaged building (along with moving to a new building) was planned as early as for the Tuesday morning, the volunteers were needed badly.  The motivation is the FANO, instead of sending the necessary money at last, it threatening to punish the administration of the Institute if the work isn’t begun immediately.  We really began to take out the dry books on Tuesday and managed to transport first several hundreds of boxes to a storage of the All-Russian Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI) in Lyubertsy near Moscow.  Luckily, we’ve found enough volunteers, our work would be much more slow without them.  Since next week we are going to work from early morning till late evening, including on week-ends; our librarians hope we’ll be able to rescue the dry books in about two weeks.

The situation with wet books is much worse.  There are at least two times as many of them as of the dry books, and our librarians are still not ready to allow the volunteers to work with them—one should be too careful with books in such a condition.  Where and how to transport them for freezing, where to dry them then, and where to get money for all of this—is still not clear.  AFAIK they have found a contractor with necessary equipment, specialists and experience, but it costs over a million dollars that we haven’t got at all.  This week they took a small number of books to a cold storage facility in Kotelniki near Moscow that agreed to receive those books into custody without prepayment, but it’s a temporary decision of course.

At least four journalists have arrived among the volunteers on Tuesday and Wednesday to find something exclusive inside our building, but didn’t say they were journalists.  Two of them were working together with me.  They were working well enough, but we found out their real profession only the next day when we saw their accounts in the Internet.  One girl’s article in Sobesednik wasn’t too friendly, she has shamelessly misquoted my answers to her questions, but she doesn’t seem to try to attack the Institute intentionally, so her mistakes were probably due to her bad knowledge of the subject, especially since she wasn’t able to ask me to explain anything additionally because she had to disclose her incognito in such a case.  One more guy’s reportage on TV was rather sympathizing. There’s nothing to be done, professional ethics isn’t a frequent guest in Russian mass media now ;-(

The Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences still doesn’t interfere in the situation.  We don’t know what they think about all of this there.

The causes of the fire are still unclear, too.  The main versions are the same three ones as previously…

Veskon-2015 Is Approaching

Veskon-2015, a yearly Moscow convent on Tolkien studies and role playing games, will take place from 21 to 23 February.  I’ll make a talk on searching books in the Internet, it will be some piece of my experience while working at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences ;-)

The Fire at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences: Two Weeks Later

This week, good news have finally appeared.  The first and most important one is they have begun to take the books out of the building.  As the investigators are still working in the building, almost no one is allowed to come inside, so only a limited number of employees take part in the transportation of the books.  We hope later we’ll be able to increase the work pace.  The Institute has made contracts with several cold storage facilities to freeze the books, and the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations has approved the purchase of a freeze drier to dry them.  Those books which are not too wet, will be dried in a separate rooms with special temperature and air humidity.  One of nine sections of the book depository, the current journals, hasn’t suffered at all.

In some rooms, there’s already electricity and heating.  The typography is at work again, and the publishing department will probably continue its work soon, too.  The government has decided not to destroy the building, but there are no details yet.  The remains of the roof are being taken out from around the building; we are looking forward to see them taken out from the second floor as well.  They are going to isolate the western half of the building from the destroyed part of the eastern half, so that we’ll be able to use the western half while the eastern one is under reconstruction.

The trees from the second floor which we took off the building on previous Wednesday are at a greenhouse now.  All of them are alive, although in a different condition, unfortunately.  We hope all of them will recover.

The causes of the fire are still unclear.  The main versions being discussed are the same as previously: an incident with electricity, an arson, a stray petard.  Until they take the remains of the roof out from the second floor, there hardly will be any more information.

Now the sad news.  According to the calculations that have just been published, almost half of the books that were stored in the building are lost.  Before the fire, the library of our Institute had some 14,700,000 books, but this number includes 3,700,000 books which are stored at the branches of our Institute at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a great number of books that had been prepared for transportation to the Institute of World Literature many years ago, but that institute hasn’t take them.  Many of them were stored in boxes on the second floor and have been of course completely annihilated by the fire. 800 thousand more are in a hangar in the courtyard of our Institute up to now.  So there were some 10,200,000 books in the building.  5,400,000 of them have burned, that is, the collections of the reading rooms on the second floor, the books for the Institute of World Literature, and some part of the main book depository.  Among them 1,100,000 books were published in Russia since 1945, they are available at other libraries.  800 thousand books are available at the branches of our Institute at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  1,200,000 books were the out-of-date ones and second copies which were to be discarded anyway in order to get some free space for new books: our depository is designed for 7 million books, not for 10 million.  So the really irretrievable losses are 2,300,000 books.  Only a death of a beloved person may be more painful.

4,800,000 books have survived.  Almost 3 million have to be freezed; nobody can imagine how long it will take to restore them.  About a million books are in a satisfactory state, among them are the most valuable—the scarce books collection and the Gottish Library that was brought to the Soviet Union after the Second World War.  Fortunately, they were stored on the ground floor.  890 thousand books are the out-of-date ones and second copies which are to be discarded anyway.

It was one of the best libraries in the USSR and it continued to be one of the best libraries in Russia even in the recent years.  When libraries begin to burn, it’s a bad sigh for any country…

Learning How to Use Tor

Censorship in the Internet has still only a limited scale in Russia, but the message ‘The Web page you are requesting has been blocked according a court decision’ has already appeared in the window of my browser several times, so I decided to find a solution for this problem before it becomes really serious and learned how to use the Tor network.  The technical details are described in Wikipedia, and the best way for a quick start is to visit the official Web site of the Tor project and to download the so called Tor Browser which includes a set of programs to work with Tor and a copy of Mozilla Firefox with a special configuration (and with the Adobe Flash Player plug-in being turned off as it can undermine your anonymity).  To my surprise, it really turned out to work ‘out of the box’, without any manual configuration; all the Web pages I tried to read opened fast enough and with no errors, including the pages that are blocked in Russia.  Thanks a lot to the developers and to the numerous Tor volunteers—owners of the Tor nodes!  Hope the Russian government won’t prohibit the Tor itself as it has been done in China and Iran.  Anyway, at least now, the Russian users who prefer to choose their sources of information by themselves have got a real opportunity to do so.

An Experts’ Report on Rescuing the Library of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences

An experts’ report has finally been published on the website of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences on necessary measures for rescuing the books from the Institute’s library.  Unfortunately the document still doesn’t contain any detailed plans; neither does it contain any estimations of the damage to the main book depository from the fire.  Waiting for further information…

New Year of Trees in the Burnt Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences

The Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat, or the New Year of Trees, that was on 4 February this year, I had to celebrate at work.  Some of the evergreen inhabitants of the second floor have survived the fire, and we didn’t want them to die from cold, so we decided to take them out of the building and to bring them to a greenhouse for temporary storage and did this on Wednesday evening.  ‘We’ were a group of the Institute’s researchers (mostly from our department of history, that was especially pleasant ;-) ), post-graduate students and our friends and colleagues who volunteered to help us.  The work was hard, but now there’s a hope at least some part of the plants will survive and recover.

Unfortunately it was the most serious of what we could do for our Institute that time because we still don’t know whether the fire has damaged the main book depository and to what extent.  The more or less exact data will probably appear only next week.

The view inside the building, especially late in the evening, is rather post-apocalyptic; somebody has already compared it to Chernobyl.  Dark, cold, ice underfoot.  While entering the hall of the catalogue, not separated from the destroyed part of the building, one feels an abrupt change of the temperature as if one came into the open space.  Dust, soot, pieces of fluorescent lamps rustle underfoot.  Holes in the floor, through which they were pumping water into the book depository; we had to keep our lamps turned on all the time in order not to break our legs.  Flecks of snow are falling from above.  The eastern half of the second floor is completely ruined; the remains of the roof are lying on the floor, covered with snow.  Shelves of the book depository can be seen through the holes in the floor.  When we looked from one side, we saw empty shelves; when we looked from another side, we say shelves with books.  It was of course impossible to understand their condition from such a distance and in the darkness; we could only see that everything was in the dust.

The situation as a whole is clearing up little by little, although not so quickly as we’d like.  It seems that apart from the book depository, only the second floor was burning, and the first floor a little; the ground floor suffered only from a flood.  Documents of the administration are already being taken to a new place.  The publishing department and typography (and the cafeteria as well ;-) ) are expected to resume operation soon.  The major conference hall is all right.  The readers’ catalogue is also alive and even dry.  The German Historical Institute had only a little damage; at least the books have survived, although are rather dirty and need to be dried.  It’s really a good luck as their library was right on the front line.  The Franco-Russian Centre, as I can understand, has survived, too.

Our department of history is buried under the fallen roof.

The causes of the fire are still unclear, but the experts are said to be already working.  Folks discuss three versions the most actively: incident with electricity, arson, a petard that had fallen on the roof (somebody was probably seen letting off fireworks not far from our building).  All of this is still pure guess-work.

They try to repair the computers, but the perspectives are questionable.  The ancient Hewlett-Packard where our electronic catalogue was functioning has, as I’ve heard, not suffered from the fire, but had a long ‘shower’.  Whether they’ll be able to reanimate it after that is a good question, unfortunately.

The administration has temporarily moved to the building of the Central Economic Mathematical Institute.  Besides that, our Institute will probably get an empty building at Krzhizhanovskogo Street and a ‘corner’ at the Central Scientific Medical Library (both are not far from our own building).  It’s also expected that new books will be catalogued at the Institute of World Literature and stored at the branches of our library at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with a mark that they are our property and should be returned to our Institute as soon as it’s restored.

It seems that our director still hopes to repair our building.  We were also told that our help will probably be needed next week to take the books out of the depository.  As I can understand, all or a great part of them have to be frozen and then dried.  I’ll try to write again as soon as I have any more information :-)

The Fire at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences is Extinguished

One more attempt to summarize information from different sources including my colleagues’ own observations.  It seems that by now the fire is mostly extinguished, smoke isn’t coming out of the building almost at all.  The water has been pumped out.  The firemen will probably stay at the place to clear the debris, but it was said the experts had already begun their work.  The causes of the fire are still unclear, there are a lot of versions being discussed, but none of them looks reasonable enough.

The smoke that was inside the building has been sucked out, but the walls haven’t cooled yet, so not all the rooms are accessible.  What has survived with a high probability are the publishing department with the typography, the accounts and planning departments, the cafeteria ;-), the German Historical Institute and the Franco-Russian Centre, and the paper catalogues of the library—both the public catalogue and the service catalogue.  What has probably survived too, but with not so high probability, are the personnel department and the directorate.  What has certainly burned are the research departments and the specialized reading rooms with their own book collections; they gave the main ‘food’ to the fire.  The fate of the servers is still unknown, including the antiquarian Hewlett-Packard mini-computer where the electronic catalogue was functioning that was the basic part of all the library’s infrastructure.  It’s also unclear if the main book depository has suffered from the fire and to what extent.  The researchers will continue their work at home, our salary won’t be reduced.  The research work and informational work will be continued.  It was also decided to increase the number of guards this week and to organize additional volunteer patrols of the Institute’s employees.  It’s too early to discuss the further perspectives: there are a lot of potential opportunities, but a good question is if at least some of them will be actually realized.

Prime-minister Dmitrii Medvedev has ordered the vice-premier Arkady Dvorkovich ‘to prepare suggestions on the restoration of the library of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences’.  We are waiting for the results.

A petition to save the Institute has been published in the Internet (in Russian).  We’ll be really grateful for your signatures :-)