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…