Russian Librarians Visiting
Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
Posted on March 18, 2003
By Cathy Jett
They work a world apart, but librarians from Russia and Fredericksburg have found common ground.
Their younger readers are more interested in using the Internet than reading a book--unless it's one by J.K. Rowling.
"Children want to read Harry Potter, nothing else," Yelena Olegovna Nechayeva said with a laugh during a daylong visit to the Central Rappahannock Regional Library's headquarters in Fredericksburg.
"At one point, we had 200 copies [of the latest Harry Potter book]," said Margaret Beattie, manager of CRRL's headquarters branch in Fredericksburg. "Two hundred copies!"
Nechayeva, director of the Mirniy Provincial District Library, is one of four Russian librarians touring Fredericksburg and several area libraries through Thursday.
Their visit is being hosted by the Fredericksburg Sister City Association through the auspices of Open World Program, which Congress sponsors to give Russian political and community leaders the chance to see how American democratic institutions operate at the local level.
The Russian librarians spent Friday talking to their counterparts at CRRL's headquarters. They were curious about how the area's regional system works, since Russia's libraries are part of its national government.
"In our country, the minister of culture has a library division that sets the rules for all libraries," Nechayeva said with the help of interpreter Marina Vanyan.
Each state, or oblast', however, can set its own rules based on national regulations, she said.
Ann Haley, a CRRL adult services librarian, said arrangements aren't as formal in America. Each locality is free to set up its own library or join a regional system, although it must follow the Library of Congress' standards for cataloging materials and state library standards for service.
The Russians were especially curious about fines charged for overdue books. Did CRRL patrons have to pay there if they used a different branch or another library system?
"In Russia, if you owe on a book in one library, you're automatically a debtor in other libraries," Nechayeva said.
Beattie said patrons are charged if they use another branch but not another library system.
The conversation quickly turned to a topic nearer and dearer to librarians' hearts: what gets checked out.
"Are Russian classical writers popular [in Fredericksburg] now?" Svetlana Yuryevna Akhmetdinova, director of the Yaroslavl City Centralized Library System, wanted to know. "Tolstoy? Pasternak, Nabokov--have you heard of him?"
Students study their works in school, but it is Russian folk tales that fly off the shelves, Beattie said.
Russians like to read Hawthorne, Hemingway and Faulkner--authors they study in foreign literature classes, Nechayeva said. But their hands-down favorite American novel is Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."
Russia's library system dates back to 1795, when Catherine II approved a design for the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg. It was to be generally accessible to the public, unlike many other national libraries throughout Europe.
Today, about half of all public library patrons in Russia are students looking for books they can't find in their poorly funded school or university libraries, the Russian librarians said.
Many also visit to use computers, because it is cheaper to get online at the library than at a cybercafe. Few Russians own computers unless they live in a large city or someplace such as Mirniy, which was a space research base under the former USSR.
The Russian librarians were fascinated to find that the regional library stocks large print books for the vision-impaired, because few Russian publishing houses print them. And they liked the idea of having children's books in the same library with adult fiction and nonfiction. At home, they have separate libraries for children and adults.
"It's one-stop shopping," the interpreter said, speaking for several of the librarians. "Everything is under one roof."
But they drew a blank when Haley tried to explain the popularity of the regional library's Virginiana room with patrons bent on researching their ancestors. In Russia, it's more popular to study the life and family of someone famous.
Besides the regional library, the visiting librarians plan to tour Mary Washington College's Simpson Library, the Gen. Alfred M. Gray Research Center at Quantico and area historic sites and art galleries.
[Reprinted with Permission]