Soviet Library Fire Analyzed

Widener Official Criticizes Soviet Library Maintenace

Disasters like the February fire which destroyed the Academy of Science Library in Leningrad will continue to plague the Soviet Union's library system if that country does not devote more resources to maintaining their libraries, the head of the Widener Library's Slavic department said in a speech at Coolidge Hall yesterday.

In his presentation entitled "Perestroikia, Nedostroikia: Glasnost, Fire and Floods in Soviet Libraries," Hugh Olmsted said that a series of fires and floods have wreaked havoc on the Soviet library system since 1972. The latest disaster at the Academy of Sciences Library which destryoed 300,000 volumes and damaged 4 million all toll only underscores the need for imporved maintenance in that country's library system, he said.

"At present the outlook is not very bright," Olmsted said. "Consider the combination of chronic shortness in budgets and bureacratic face-saving tries for quick-fixes and cheap effects, and all this physical deterioration and it's just inevitable that it will have effects."

While the Soviet efforts to save the damaged books from the Leningrad library were well-intentioned, they were often inadequate and misguided, Olmsted said.

"They would iron [the waterlogged volumes] to get the water to come out, which had all sorts of bad effects on the bindings and on the pages themselves," Olmsted said of efforts by the Soviets to dry out recovered works that had been soaked by fire hoses.

Olmsted met with officials of the Leningrad library to discuss the fire in March, while he was in the country studying the Soviet Union's library system.

The Harvard library system is considering whether to help with restoratrion efforts, Olmsted said. American organizations are considering sending microfilm, periodicals, technical advice and equipment, he said.

The Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity has already sent a team of experts specializing in book conservation to the Leningrad library which will report to the Library of Congress, Olmsted said.