As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

The New Economic Situation and its Impact on Foreign Acquisitions in Major Russian Libraries

Galina A. Kiskovskaya

Moving towards democracy & market economy in Russia has affected all spheres of live. The sad truth is that this transition has aggravated even more the former existed situation in the non profit sector, libraries, research & educational institutions being integral parts.

Complete or partial loss of funding has profound implications: less of research to be carried out, closing of research institutions or severe staff cuts, an overall information crisis. A dramatic shortage of information resources has in turn "contributed" to decay of research activity in the country. Complains on the part of users working for academic, educational, public, governmental, business institutions about the absence or insufficiency of up-to-date information related to their sphere of activity have real grounds and can be illustrated by some figures showing tendencies in foreign acquisitions of some major Russian libraries. See a table p. 8.

To better understand the present situation one should know peculiarities of obtaining foreign publications in the recent past, when three traditional sources of acquisition of foreign material Ä purchase, international exchange, donations Ä existed mainly for the major libraries: Russian State Library, Russian National Library (St. Petersburg), Library of Academy of Sciences, Russian P ublic National Library on Science & Technology, Moscow University Library, State Historical Library, State Research Medical Library, Central Research Agricultural Library, Library of Foreign Literature, Arts Library. Another point to note is that the above mentioned libraries located either in Moscow or in St. Petersburg (with one exception Ä a branch of Russian National Public & Library on Science & Technology in Novosibirsk) were the only ones to receive hard currency state allocations (State Public Historical Library exclusive) and legally were allowed to conduct exchange with western institutions.

The incredible centralization of foreign publications in two cities created immense difficulties in providing access to them though in the past interlibrary loan was a very efficient mechanism of actual access to documents. Nowadays legal restrictions for all types of libraries to handle exchange operations do not exist which doesn't mean that they are flourishing. The ideological limitations hav e been replaced by economic ones which are even harder than the notorious "iron curtain". More than that the interlibrary loan which has been playing such an important role is also facing lots of problems, the most acute being completely unreliable mail, lack of funds to pay both mailing expenses and/or the cost of copying.

A small survey done by the LFL before taking a decision not to provide the original copy of a foreign publication on loan has set up a pattern for practice of sending only xerox or microfilm copies of foreign materials. But neither libraries nor their readers (at least those who work with LFL) are quite happy to accept this innovation because in some cases they cannot afford paying for photocopyi ng. The delivery of publications through the channels of international interlibrary loan is even more complicated due to lack of hard currency.

The last but not the least is the fact that in Russia new technological advancements have not affected library operations Ä namely document delivery Ä to the extent they have in the developed countries. This is a very generalized description of the situation with foreign acquisitions & access to information on foreign languages. The situation is without exaggeration very serious and troublesome since a foreign book is an indispensable condition of the development of the national culture. This not laying it on thick, but quite a realistic understanding of the importance of a book in the life of a society. Regrettably the consequences of this "death of books" are not that evident and it is mainly because of that the powers that be are not going to satisfy it in the near future. The crisis when it is perceived provokes inventions Ä the truth 100% applicable to libraries.

The Library of Foreign Literature (LFL) as it is seen from the name itself probably more than any other institution felt the heavy burden of economic changes since acquisition of foreign material which build 90% of its holdings Ä had been always mostly dependent on state hard currency allocations, cut off completely in 1990, thus making the Library rely only on international exchange of pu blications. The latter in turn due to ongoing transformations in book publishing & book trade is facing its own peculiar difficulties.

Innovations in the development of acquisition projects and long-term strategic relocations of resources were required. In 1990 the most realistic way out was the creation of alternative sources of foreign acquisition instead of infruitful & appeals for subsidies to the Ministry of Culture Ä a parent body of the LFL. For all universality of the problem of financial constrains, its manifestation, complicating factors and approaches to solution are quite individual. For the LFL search for new sources of obtaining materials from abroad was closely connected with developing new library strategies, setting up new objectives stemming from the changed and changing social environment.

The Library which for the 70 years has been a "bridge" between western & Russian cultures has reinforced in its long-term objectives and operating plans the mission of the Library as an international cultural center. This newly developed concept allowed the LFL both to pursue the 70 year old tradition of building up a collection on social sciences & humanities on foreign languages, to meet new information demands of the library users and... survive as an institution. The future we have projected for the Library is the one that is sought by the majority of its clientele which was proved by a recent readers survey. The found solution for provision of information has fitted perfectly well into the new strategies. In practical terms they can be classified the following way:


In 1991 the agreement between the LFL & Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France was signed which led to the setting of the French Cultural Centre in the LFL. Promotion of French culture being the core objective of the FCC is in full compliance with the LFL strategies. The cooperation between the two institutions resulted in creation of opportunities for access to information on current trends in French culture. FCC together with the LFL have initiated several book distribution projects across Russia. One of the recipients of French books was of course the LFL itself. For example, Page a Page programme brought to the LFL & provincial libraries books of the leading French publishing houses with a 70% discount. The financial procedures, transportation were settled by the LFL.

Actually all the cultural programs including foreign books distribution the LFL has been creating not only for itself but for provincial libraries being aware of the lack of information on foreign culture outside Moscow. For many years the LFL was officially supervising departments of foreign literature in state regional libraries out of which it gained an invaluable expertise of the information demands of provincial library users. The agreement with the British Council led to the creation of the British Resource Centre tailored to specific needs of teachers of English. The LFL has been always notable for its rich collection on teaching of foreign languages. Actually Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages was born within the Library. Unfortunately this strong collection has been undermined by lack of financial resources whereas the policy of openness, new tendencies in education have led to an incredible outburst of interest to teaching & learning foreign languages.

The British Resource Centre has met this demand by including into its collection most recent books, a wide range of audio and video cassettes, computer language courses. Two-year-old cooperation with the BBC provided bases for expanding services for groups of users looking for current information on politics, economy, culture. Installation of modern equipment on the BBC stand has also positively affected English language teaching. Most boring and unproductive methods of language teaching spread across the country have led almost to a nation-wide ignorance in fore ign languages which is a serious barrier in exchange of ideas, expertise, experience & information with foreign colleagues. With technologically advanced BBC equipment library users can improve their English by listening & seeing BBC world service & Russian service news, BBC language teaching programs, parliamentary debates directly transmitted from London. The permanent BBC publications exhibiti on that is periodically updated is an invaluable addition to the LFL collection of reference & English teaching manuals collection. The most frutiful & friendful cooperation with the BBC also resulted in getting an exquisite & unique collection of BBC productions of Shakespeare's plays on video-tapes which contributed to the enrichment of the LFL Shakespearian collection.

The appearance of the American Center in 1993 through the grant from USIA has entirely changed the formerly accepted standards of a traditional Russian library. The creation of a highly sophisticated information environment within the state-of-the art American Center has shifted the activity of librarians (recruited from the LFL Staff) from mere building comprehensive American collection to provi ding access to electronic & printed materials from many sources, local & remote. The provision of customized information services to politicians, representatives of legislative & executive branches of power, economists is in the focus of the AC performance. It doesn't mean that undergraduates & graduates are not allowed to use the Center's facilities, but the mission of the Center reflected in the composition of reference collection, choice of on line & CD-ROM data-bases is t o facilitate democratic changes in Russia by means of creation of adequate information environment first of all for high rank officials & state-level decision-makers.

At the same time the openness of the Center to general public stimulates not only cognitive potentials of its users but leads to emergence of understanding of the value of information & awareness of how to handle modern facilities. The AC with on line access to Dialog, PDQ, Legislate, efficiently working e mail, worldwide Internet connections, a diversity of CD ROMs (among which ProQuest is the m ost popular) has really become a model library for Russia. The AC through its vast outreach programmes for Russia is spreading not only information on the potentials of the Center but also the idea of a necessity of transition from a conventional library to a virtual library. There's no formal agreement with the Goethe Institute but the relations with this organization set an example of the most productive type of cooperation engaging both institutions in collaborative projects on provision of information on German culture. Joint efforts of Goethe Institute, LFL, Russian Ministry of Culture led to setting up of five German Cultural Centers in big industrial cities whi ch disseminate knowledge about Germany.


Information provision requires a broad set of activities, donation inclusive. Book-aid programmes can hardly be regarded as innovations by our western colleagues, but for the LFL and Russian libraries this solution can be considered as a new tendency, moreover, the scale, nature, variety of donation projects is quite impressive.

Unlike the situation in western libraries where physical information resources are giving way to digital data & electronic images, in most Russian libraries especially in those which have extremely poor collections of foreign documents the dominant philosophy is still obtaining materials in a printed format. This philosophy is based, on the one hand, on lack of awareness of the new trends in libr ary services, on the other hand, on shortage of funds for introducing new technologies and, finally, on the belief that ownership of print-based documents will never be substituted to the full extent by electronic media.

Bearing that in mind, the LFL has initiated several donation projects some of which turned out to be all-Russia book-aid programmes. Through donations the LFL has considerably strengthened its collection of theology, philosophy, fiction, arts, children's literature, business. Among the most valuable donations the LFL received within the three last years were:

A huge donation programme inspired by Signals Trust International (Great Britain) & the LFL, started in 1992 with an appeal to British publishers to help Russian libraries. More than 1.6 million books were collected, sent to the LFL which distributed them not only among Russian libraries, but also across the former Soviet Republics. Different types of libraries ranging from academic to school lib raries were recipients of the British books.

Less smaller in scale but not in importance was the Australian book donation project organized & implemented in collaboration with the Australian Embassy in Russia. While planning the above mentioned projects, both the LFL & donors took into consideration the subject profiles of the recipient libraries & the structure of unsatisfied users' demands. With German book-aid programme we advanced even more since Russian libraries were given an opportunity to select publications of 52 German leading publishing houses. 1.330 000 DM allocated by the German Federal G overnment for this purpose were actually doubled because the publishers enrolled in the project gave 50% discount from their price lists.

Another considerable gift to six libraries (LFL inclusive) was made by German Börsenverein deutschen Buchhandels which was followed by passing Moscow book Fair -1993 German displays to a number of Russian libraries. As part of this project the LFL got a valuable theological collection for its theological (ecumenical) department. Another LFL partner, Inter Naciones, a world-wide known institu tion promoting German culture generously donated to the LFL & other libraries (again through the LFL) German publications, mainly language manuals with audio-casettes.

A few words about the distribution of YMCA publications which from mere distribution process turned out to be an elucidative one for Russian province which finally got access to the formerly prohibited works by Russian philosophers living abroad. Yet another project on distribution of American books translated into Russian was fulfilled in collaboration with USIA.

Sabre Foundation donation project, also American by origin, has been under way for already a year. Success is closely connected with the possibility to select from the lists provided by the Foundation. It's still not a classical selection process, but the libraries are nevertheless given a possibility of choice which is very essential. I'm neither listing here some other donation projects, names of donors & Russian recipient libraries, nor submitting figures representing the scale of this activity - they tend to change every day since the LFL for its own benefit & for the benefit of Russian libraries is in constant search for new opportunities, programmes & projects.


This is one of the very promising potentials, not explored & exploited to the full extent by Russian libraries long used to being supported largely by public money. The LFL has been raising annually approximately $ 874,500 not only for acquisition purposes but for a range of other activities, automation of the libray being one of it. Raising awareness of new concepts underlying fund-raising procedures among Russian libraries is one of the most essential components of the LFL activity. The institute of fund raising has become even more important in the situation when rouble is convertible. Though the complexity of bank operations is frightening, it doesn't kill the initiative of the most courageous and energetic library admini strators who, unlike the ones infected by Soviet conservatism & fears, use convertation as a means of getting hard currency for foreign acquisitions.

Resource sharing

The concept of cooperation was always in the air. But in real terms coordination in foreign acquisitions didn't affect seriously libraries' selection practices. Absence of electronic bibligraphic networks has been hindering the creation of a working mechanism of coordination. But the dramatic financial situation has led to a growing recognition of the necessity of sharing responsibility in building up strong, unique, well-shaped collections. The first attempt to coordinate foreign serials acquisition within Moscow was made in December 1993, when represen tatives of six major Moscow libraries gathered in the LFL to discuss issues of mutual concern & to come to practical decisions. One of the positive outcomes of the meeting was the willingness to coordinate forthcoming 1995 subscription arrangements on the basis of the up-dated version of a union catalogue of foreign serials in the holdings of 12 major Moscow libraries. The attendees demonstrated a vision of long-term committments for creation of working tools of coordination, new approaches to document delivery & improvement of the existing ones.

The introduction of new technology beyond any doubt will facilitate access to information. Regrettably, lagging behind in library automation makes the shortage of information resources even more tangible. But prospects for optimism do exist, with several Russian libraries having signed an agreement with IME (Great Britain) quite efficient in automating integrated library systems. In conclusion I should admit that the depicted problems are probably very specific & very Russian, but the proposed solutions have already been tested & proved their reliability. Hopefully they will have the same effect in Russia.