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Historical Library Could Become History

08 февраля, 00:00

Fate has never been especially me rciful to it. Hardly a couple of years after opening the library was devastated by the war. Over 500,000 rare and precious books, the entire library stock, were stolen or destroyed by the occupying Germans. At least ten years had passed after the war before the historical library was restored with help from libraries all over the Soviet Union and contributions from private collections.

Under the Soviets its staff worked on multivolume encyclopedias, published research papers, conducted studies, and held conferences, making the library a major historical research venue not only for Ukraine but the entire USSR.

Its stock currently boasts 800,000 books, and it serves over 13,000 readers, mostly research fellows and students majoring in the humanities. Some of the books stored there are 400-500 years old, and some are the only editions left in the world.

Unfortunately, this cultural wealth does not attract money. For the past several years the State Historical Library of Ukraine has been in a disastrous state. Token government subsidies are paid very irregularly. Last year, unable to pay its electricity bills, the library had to close for some time. It was thanks to the jubilee that the Ministry of Culture paid the library’s utility bills. Its workers say they will make it through the winter, but then what?

There are over 100 people on staff, mostly women of pension age, each paid an average of 100- 120 hryvnias a month. They do not retire, wishing to retain even this meager source of income.

And the premises present an equally dismal picture. In fact, there are no premises, for the library is located on the grounds of the Kyiv Pechersk Monastery of the Caves, leasing three buildings storing books. In other words, Ukraine’s only historical library has the status of a stowaway (even during the jubilee year the library could not afford to pay its rent).

There is, however, another problem worrying the staff: the almost total absence of new acquisitions to the library stock. Its director, Leonid Makarenko, describes the situation like this:

“We have been receiving nothing of late, because we haven’t been paid a single kopiyka for new acquisitions. We have petitioned all editorial offices and publishers. Some have responded, sending us things free of charge, but this is very little, of course. The issue is not only Ukrainian works. Earlier, we obtained books through the scholarly book pool, and we received all the scholarly works appearing in print throughout the Soviet Union and we had adequate subsidies. At that time we put together a very good library stock. In the past couple of years it’s been what we got as donations.

“We hope that there will be sponsors to help. Not so long ago we won a sponsorship grant and bought computers, but we can’t put them to good use because Internet connection costs too much.”

Such is the daily reality of the State Historical Library of Ukraine: no premises, no contributions, and constant efforts to pay utility bills. A sad picture. True, the situation is no better anywhere else in Ukraine, yet Ukrainian scholarship is not in a much worse condition than Russian science. Yet the Historical Library in Moscow can afford vast book depositories, use the Internet, and pay for new acquisitions. Will the Ukrainian state budget go broke after paying for a dozen books for a national library? Or could our ranking politicians perhaps be too busy to bother about such trifles? Then why do we constantly hear references to the national cultural heritage when those actually responsible for its preservation often cannot pay their electric and heating bills? Let us hope that we will show our pride in our history not only in words.

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