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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Preservation Strategy in Russian Libraries: Priorities and Realization

Svetlana Dobroussina
Conservation Department,
National Library of Russia,
St. Petersburg, Russia


In 1995-1996 the development of the National program on library collections preservation is began in Russia, under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and of the Russian Library association.

On the base of present conditions examination three main lines for document conservation are established as priorities.

  1. Creating and maintaining normative conditions in existing libraries, in the library buildings under reconstruction as well as in the new ones.

  2. Phazed conservation, keeping documents in containers as a kind of interim conservation.

  3. Mass stabilization and restoration.

We consider as a priority the kind of conservation which enables to raise at most the preservation level of as many documents as possible with a minimal conservator’s intervention in a document structure.

The development of preventive conservation and modernization in the field of stabilization and restoration is realizable only by consolidation of existing conservation centers (on the base of the largest Federal Libraries) and by the creation of new ones - the regional centers, perhaps on the base of republican libraries.


The 1986 UNESCO General Conference approved of the "Guidelines for possible international activities in view of preserving library materials" envisaging national programs for library holdings preservation to be launched in every country of the world. Such programs have been developed and are underway in the USA, Canada, France, Japan, Sweden.

The Federal Law on Librarianship passed in Russia in 1994 states that "the governmental policy in librarianship is based on the principle of an indiscriminate accessibility of information and cultural values accumulated in libraries and provided by them for temporary use."

The principles proclaimed by the law are possible to follow in real life only under the condition that the information in question and its carriers are guaranteed against damage and deterioration, which are the reverse side of accessibility. Here one encounters the whole of preservation problem complexity.

1. About the history of the problem

In our country, the problem of library fund storage has never been studied on the governmental level, and correspondingly no solutions have ever been suggested. There has been no unified national program aimed at protection library materials as the country's cultural and scholarly heritage.

However, major federal libraries including the Russian State Library (RSL) and the All-Russian State Library of Foreign Literature (LFL) in Moscow, the Russian National Library (RNL) and the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences (LRAS) in St.Petersburg have always been active in preserving the library collections. It is these institutions with their relatively powerful conservation departments and skilled chemists, microbiologists, and restorers shaped the preservation policies in the ex-USSR.

These centers did not spare efforts to train and assist conservation and restoration experts from the USSR's diverse regions and republics; they accumulated everything new and progressive developed locally or borrowed from foreign experience.

For instance, the LFL has adapted and widely used paper restoration with splitting, developed by the German Restoration Center in Leipzig. The RSL conducted intensive research in the ways to stabilize the binding leather. The LRAS since its catastrophic fire has concentrated its efforts in perfecting the preventive conservation methods. The RNL, already since the late 1950's, had started developing ways of mechanized mass restoration. It was here that appeared for the first time and was implemented later the idea of filling missing parts of a sheet with paper pulp. Nowadays, it is standard practice all over the world. A lot of libraries in many countries have restoration leaf-casting machines; in the document conservation department of the RNL there stands the only Russian mechanized processing line used for document restoration with paper pulp refill.

Presently, our department in cooperation with manufacturing companies is developing the technology of manuscripts mechanized restoration by paper aeroforming, which stipulates the minimum use of water, so as a method of mass book strengthening with the use of parylene.

An analysis conducted over Russian district and regional libraries and major conservation centers in regard to their preservation activity showed that the main emphasis was done on restoration, though the traditional measures of preventive measures and storage organization were not forgotten either.

2. Priorities

The strategy of library collections preservation should in every country be the primary concern of the library directors and financing organizations. Traditionally, Russia is no exception either, as libraries get financed by the state. Despite the means scarcity, the Russian Ministry of Culture (RMC) is paying still closer attention to this problem over the country.

In connection to that, a major aspect of preservation-oriented policies is outlining the priorities.

Until quite recently, accessibility fully determined the library holdings structures. However, it is preservation which must play and does play an increasing role in the library activities planning.

This purpose is served by the experts whose activities aimed at training and informing others, and whose responsibility is the preservation of library materials. This is a complicated and multi-faceted task, as it presumes shifting the emphasis towards preventive measures.

In 1996, under the auspices of the RMC and the Russian Library Association, there was started the development of a nation-wide program with a view to preserve library collections. Selected had been eight basic projects together amounting to a unified program:

  1. forming a united stock of printed monuments;
  2. cataloging and registration of the united stock;
  3. compilation of generalized electronic catalogs;
  4. accessibility;
  5. conservation;
  6. starting a reserve stock and information preservation;
  7. security;
  8. providing the program with trained personnel and scholarly background.

The work along several guidelines has already been started. It should be noted that "Conservation" appears at the level of a separate item in the program, and the question of 'why?' might well arise.

Nowadays, the conception of preservation envelops quite a few essential aspects in the library activities; possible, it will become still more all-embracing while the society develops and library technologies get perfected.

However, originally the term of "preservation" (according to the Russian standard of 7.50-90: Document conservation. General requirements) is defined as the document condition described as the extent to which it preserved its exploatation properties. Therefore, in case the document in question is damaged, destroyed, and can be irreparably lost, all other questions related to preservation with the entire diversity of its aspects will appear senseless.

A study of the situation present in Russia has allowed to give the priority to three basic technological conservation directions:

The priorities age given to the conservation methods allowing for a maximum increase in preservation for the maximum number of documents with the conservator's minimum possible intervention in the document structure.

The world practice had accepted that this is done with preventive conservation being a set of measures intended to protect printed materials and manuscripts from damage of any kind by providing the optimal conditions of storage and usage, i.e. establishing and keeping the favorable storage environment (temperature, humidity, light) and by applying containers. Storage conditions are the basis of preservation. It is the storages that have to become the focal point of attention for the Russian library administrations at all levels.

The third guideline: stabilization assumes special treatments of documents to slowing down their aging and to prevent the damages. The mass stabilization looks preferable large-scale as a more efficient approach applicable to most documents to be kept eternally or sufficiently long.

There are no equipment for mass stabilization in Russia despite existing foreign experience and domestic studies. The introduction of mass stabilization so as the increase of the productivity and efficiency of new mechanized restoration technologies will significantly reduce the need of effort-consuming manual restoration.

3. Reality and the existing problems

Development of preventive conservation along with modernized stabilization and restoration can result solely from the improvements introduced in the already existing restoration centers and launching new ones, specializing in the country's eastern areas.

The lack of financial means that the government experiences is one of the reasons why the monetary and personnel resources are concentrated in a fairly limited number of centers provided with modern equipment.

We certainly cannot completely overhaul the storages of all Russian libraries or indiscriminately give these libraries modern large-scale conservation machinery. However, we can and do conduct training at various levels, so that the managers and librarians knew what should be done in specific situations and how the Russian national heritage could be preserved as well as possible; they must know how to act. Any inexpensive measures are also always welcomed.

The centers are not only consultants; they are experts and very real assistants to Russian libraries which are to provide preservation of their holdings on the basis of the programs developed for the specific collections, primarily those containing especially valuable items or rare books.

To make approaching this strategy possible, we have to find possible solutions, best of all in cooperation with diverse home and foreign institutions. This cooperation may take the shape of conferences for the experts, or of a joint project on the practical level, participated by libraries, institutions, and commercial companies.

4. Conclusion

I want to finish my brief report with three questions suggested by Prof.E.Hakli, Director of Finland's National Library in his report presented during a conference «Choosing to preserve» held in Leipzig in 1996. These three questions seem to be best suitable for establishing the national policies and launching preservation programs:

  1. What are our priorities (speaking about the collections) in case no conservation activities are likely to preserve everything?

  2. What is the expected life of our heritage in case we do not get the means we need?

  3. Do we know what we will do if we get reasonable but limited money?

The real and well substantiated answers will appear extremely useful to outline the preservation policies both on a national scale and in a separate library. They are necessary to begin any serious discussions with the government, as without their assistance all national policies of collection preservation are doomed.