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 🙂