Ada Kolganova: "Even the Intelligentsia Are Not Aware of All of Our Capabilities"

This year the Russian State Library of the Arts is celebrating its 90th anniversary. Its residence on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street does not just give out books, but also hosts exhibitions, concerts and seminars. The Library staff is indefatigable in its search for new forms to fulfill its primary purpose of providing information services to its readers, many of whom are theatre celebrities. On the eve of the anniversary the Russian State Library of the Arts director Ada Aronovna Kolganova talked about the library's past and present.

On our history: We were initially founded as a theatre library; that's why theatre always remained a priority here. Our library was opened in 1922, attached to the Maly Theatre's educational courses. Professors as well as theatre director Sumbatov-Yuzhin right away gave us the bulk of their collections – book and otherwise.
On our collection: We have one-of-a-kind valuables. Our unique collection of lithographed plays for instance. Right now we are preparing its catalogue for publication. Also of interest is a collection of Russian dramatic compositions, including those written by hand. Such plays could have up to ten copies created especially for the theatre company. The pages of many of the copies in the collection of the Russian State Library of the Arts are covered with notes and comments made by artists and directors.
There is a collection of engravings, which is unusual for a library to have, and a collection of postcards, including theatre, picture, portrait, and architecture postcards. (The library created a travelling exhibition with postcards dedicated to theatre, which gets displayed at various cultural institutions, and currently graces the editorial office of the ITI-Info magazine А.Ch.) Recently we purchased additional engravings dedicated to Shakespeare's plays and made by his contemporaries. Our photo collection even has daguerreotypes, which do not exist in any Russian museum.
Another highlight of the Russian State Library of the Arts is the sketches for theatre productions that are either donated to us or that we purchase ourselves from Russian artists. Admittedly, for a period of 20 years, during the times of perestroika and various financial difficulties, we could not afford such purchases, but now this tradition returned to the library.
On our exhibitions and the Moscow Art Theatre School: Museum treasures do not lie on the shelves collecting dust – we allow specialists and diploma students to use them, and we also put together exhibitions. Our Reader's Museum is unusual. Its exhibits talk about the attitude of stage and screen artists toward the library. We also record every one of them – transfer them to electronic form in order to preserve them for history. We already had exhibitions dedicated to our library and the Maly Theatre, as well as to the library and the Moscow Art Theatre – after all, we take part in virtually every production of the Moscow Art Theatre. Courses at the Russian State Library of the Arts are included into the programme for students of the Department of Costume Design of the Moscow Art Theatre School. Our specialists guide thesis and course work, take part in conducting state examinations and thesis defense for costume designers.
The Museum is currently displaying the "Library and Motion Pictures" exhibition. Among other things displayed there are readers' queries to celebrities. Those can be used to trace how famous directors and actors, such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Inna Makarova, for example, prepared for their roles or productions.
On financing: The state finances the operation of the library. Yet I wouldn't say that there is always enough money, at the very least because the kinds of publications and documents that we procure are considerably different from the kinds of purchases that other libraries make. We place special emphasis on collecting art books, whose prices are sometimes extremely high. And that is where the Russian State Library of the Arts has to demonstrate the wonders of management.
On sore topics: The only thing that we can truly complain about is the lack of space, because we are sharing the building with the office of Rospotrebnadzor, formerly the Sanitary Epidemiological Station. After all, our residence, designed by Matvei Kazakov, is famous for housing the Office of Imperial Theatres; it was within these walls that Tolstoy read "The Power of Darkness" in front of its first audience (we continue the tradition of theatre meetings even now).
The story with the partition of the building is a very protracted one. At one point even Dmitri Sergeyevich Likhachev and Innokenti Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky, who wrote letters to secretaries of district committee and the secretary of the regional party committee, tried to help us.
And yet, things still have not gotten off the ground, though there's hope that someday the city will provide a different floor-space for Rospotrebnadzor. Its offices, by the way, are scattered all over Moscow, and it would have been more convenient for the specialists themselves to have them all united under one roof in some other place.
Meanwhile, the BTI (Bureau of Technical Inventory) plans split our house into three parts. And currently they are working on refurbishing the design of only one part of the building, the cultural monument to be transferred to federal ownership and under the operational management of the library.
On our hopes: There is one more solution that is important to us, whereby Rosimushchestvo (the Federal Agency for State Property Management) upon a petition of the Ministry of Culture must provide us with additional space, for we have long run out of room for properly storing our collections. And we manage in spite of, not thanks to our situation.
If it weren't for the problems with space, we wouldn't have conducted literature selections; we would have collected every single book that falls within our specialization. We would have opened our own printing office and other necessary departments. We would have also built a decent cafeteria for our readers, because right now all we have is a tiny snack bar for them.

It is difficult to fulfill the mission of a library as a cultural center in such a confined space.

On our readers: Previously the library serviced only specialists of the cultural realm. It was even defined as the "Library of the USSR Ministry of Culture ". Despite this inaccessibility to a wider reading audience, as far back as the early 1980s we had lines forming on the entry staircase all the way up to the second floor.
Times are different now, and for the third year in a row we have been operating as a public library. Anyone who has a passport can sign up for membership with us. We service school children as well, though selectively and mostly during school breaks, when there are fewer adult readers.
Still the Russian State Library of the Arts is more often frequented by students from specialized higher education institutions, professors and theatre people. Among them are holders of our "Honorary Reader Ticket". There are hardly a dozen and a half of them; they are our oldest friends, the ones that help the library. Boris Messerer and Viktor Volsky, for instance, are among them.
We have many good friends among directors as well. Those include Konstantin Raikin, Yuri Solomin, Mark Rozovsky, Mikhail Levitin... They mostly take out books by subscription.
On the new technologies: These days many people don't go to the library; they make do with internet resources. But you and I know that library provides an entirely different kind of knowledge.
Unfortunately, people of the arts and scientists are simply not informed about the capabilities of the Russian State Library of the Arts. One doesn't have to look far for examples. Back in the day, when I wasn't yet employed at this library, I was writing a book and driving to Khimki to the newspaper branch of the Leninka library, shoveling through mounds of filings in order to find the needed news story. Too bad I didn't know that the library on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street had a card index with newspaper clippings. If I had come here, they would have had the prepared folders with the materials I needed set out in front of me. The library is sometimes capable of taking on part of the reader's job.
The unique theme-based collection of newspaper clippings (the most valuable of its kind in the country) is our pride and joy. How many generations of people of the arts and journalists have been helped by it! The clippings, though, have a tendency to wear out. That's why three years ago we decided to transfer our "Theatre Press" collection to electronic form. The collection holds about a million articles altogether, and we have digitized most of it already.
It is unfortunate that many theatre people don't know about yet another one of our library unique sources – a collection of publications that exist only in microfiche format. Quite often they contain images that are rare or completely unknown here in our country. This is especially valuable for stage designers. Unfortunately, many of them prefer using only the literature that they are familiar with from their student years; literature whose images have already been worn through to a hole and used countless of times.
The Russian State Library of the Arts has magnificent repertoire card indexes in electronic form to assist directors and men and women of letters. They have everything spelled out there – the themes of the plays, the number of parts in them – female, male, and children's. We put together different sources, even handwritten ones, that contain dramatic works, to make it possible for the repertoire to be renewed.
We have recently hired an employee with journalistic education to inform the readers – both loyal and potential – about how the Russian State Library of the Arts can assist them. She now talks about our work on the social network sites. And in our anniversary year we are inviting all Moscow residents – come to the library and visit our website! Incidentally, in January of this year we have begun operating online as well: you can view our catalogue while sitting at home and instantly order any literature via the internet.

Anna Chepurnova
Photos courtesy of the Russian State Library of the Arts

 

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