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All Russia Library Day/ Всероссийский день библиотек (День библиотекаря): The Call Number Girls

By May 27, 2010June 3rd, 2017Uncategorized

Today is Library Day in Russia!

Russian Libraries, Russian State Library, Leninka, Jennifer Eremeeva

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva

My buddy, Joe Kelly is what Yiddish speakers call a mensch – a great guy who seems to have an innate sense when to turn up.  In May of 2005, I was single-handedly unpacking and shelving my book collection in our new flat in Moscow.  I had been itching to get this done, and so had spent much of the day, unpacking and stacking boxes with careful labels announcing, “Fiction Buchan – Dickens,” or “Dan Brown Studies,” and “Queen Marie of Rumania bios.”  When Joe showed up, looking for a clean bathroom, a cold drink, and a nap on my new couch, he found me more than ready to take a break.We sipped our ginger lemonades, feet up on piles of books, as we surveyed the stacks on the floor and partially filled shelves, which stretched across the length of two rooms.

“Want me to help you throw these up onto the shelves?” asked Joe.

“No,” I said, shaking my head, “Thanks…but I have to figure out where to start each section…that will take me a while.”

“Dude,” said Joe laughing, “what do you mean…section?”

“You know,” I explained, “like biography, early church history, interior design, fiction, foreign fiction –“

“Jenny B!” exclaimed Joe, laughing his head off, “you really catalog your books…like according to what, the Dewey Decimal system?”

I was confused.

“Don’t you?” I asked. “Is there another system?”

Joe is still dining out on this…he calls me the Call Number Girl, and because he’s Joe, it’s funny.

My library was Dukedom large enough.

~ The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Today is All-Russian Library Day! From Kaliningrad to Nakhodka, we are celebrating Russian libraries and librarians!  Be sure to take a moment and stop off at your neighborhood public library and thank the librarians for all they do for making our lives richer, fuller, and happier.

That, of course, could be a problem if you live anywhere between Kaliningrad and Nakhodka because you might not be able to get into the library.  Not unless you have a special access pass (which is very different from a card) like the one Lyudmila, the gutsy husband-hunting heroine of Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears, finagles in order to spend a Sunday afternoon in in search of a likely-looking graduate student in Moscow’s Lenin Library.

“What are you going for?” asks her more practical and studious friend, Katya, “surely not the books?”

“Well,” says Lyudmila, “you see…there is a cigarette break room.”

Library, Russian State Library, Leninka

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva – The State Russian Library’s Main Staircase

Library Culture in Russia

It goes without saying that there isn’t the Library culture in Russia that exists in the West.  There are libraries, to be sure, but you don’t get taken to them in a stroller for Story Hour as a toddler, or exhaust the Young Adult section by the time you are 13.  You don’t inhale Victoria Holt or become riveted by Nicholas & Alexandra.  They don’t offer free Internet access and aren’t staffed by nice people who talk to you as they check out your books about the latest Rachel Cusk.  They certainly don’t hunt down an out of print copy of My Ordeal by Queen Marie of Rumania for you. You can’t check out a DVD of My Man Godfrey when you are feeling blue or a 30 hour engrossing Book On Tape for a long car drive…in fact, you don’t check out anything, you stay in and read stuff there.  You don’t volunteer to go to an endless series of what are known in my family as “regularly scheduled emergency meetings of the Library Board,” on cold January nights.

There are no real libraries in Russia.    Not that I could find.  Not that satisfied my insatiable desire for books.  There is the Library of Foreign Literature which doesn’t smell super but is a place where you can go and sit and read Jane Eyre or a three-month-old Time Magazine if you are that desperate, but you have to bring six copies of your passport and leave your first born hostage.

My Library: A Triumph of Logistics:

I took three books with me to Russia in 1992, and I read them until the spines cracked and the pages were waterlogged.  When Saint Steve came out with the iPod and I could download audio books, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.

English books were like gold in Moscow:  every trip to London included a long session at Hatchard’s or a slow wander up Charring Cross Road.  You had to know someone really really well to lend them a book, and Russian drivers crisscrossed Moscow to deliver and return the precious commodities to book club members.


Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva

Today, my own library in Moscow to me seems nothing short of miraculous: Over 2000 volumes: impressive lit in the public areas of the flat, comfort lit downstairs in the privacy of the bedroom.  Each one, a triumph over logistics.  Each one, a friend.  Each one painstakingly trawled for in used book shops or online to satisfy the completist in me:  my childhood favorites added to Velvet’s shelves: Laura and Mary, Heidi, and Frodo joined the five sisters from All-Of-A-Kind-Family, and made room for newcomers Princess Mia, Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

As Velvet got older, she would ask for new stories and I’d pull Lizzie Bennett, Linda Radlett, and Fanny Logan, Patrick Dennis or Scout down from the shelf.

My books keep me company and make me feel safe.  It isn’t too much of a stretch to say they keep me sane.

After we closed on the new house in Northampton, title documents in hand, HRH suggested we head off for a long celebratory lunch at our favorite French restaurant, Bistro Le Gras.

“One stop to make first,” I said, climbing into the car.

“Where?” asked HRH, puzzled.

The Forbes Public Library,” I said, “I want a library card.”

Happy Library Day to librarians – wannabe or otherwise – throughout all of Russia and the world!

Dear Reader:

Let’s shout it out for the Librarians!!!!! Leave a tribute by clicking on the comment button below, and don’t forget to say “Thank You” to the people who make your library possible!  Consider becoming a member of your own local public library, volunteer for story hour, or just browse the shelves.  Or, if you’re in Moscow, come and see my Library….if you are very good, I’ll lend you a book!

Update in 2016:

Actually, I did finally pluck up the courage and join the Russian State Library where I often go to work and soak up all kinds of atmosphere. I haven’t plucked the courage up to ask for a book…but I’ll get there!

Photo Credit: Jennifer Eremeeva – a Day in the Leninka Reading Room


  • Julia says:

    Love this stunt, and this has got to be my favourite day. I was a devoted library patron (and occasional employee) from childhood right through university. I was disappointed to learn about the Russian library system when I lived in Moscow in 1993, but borrowed books from fellow students at MGPU. My personal library grew out of necessity after I moved there in 2001 – books picked up in airport kiosks, bookstores with English sections in other European cities, Moscow hotel shops (where I discovered Terry Pratchett, oh glorious day!) and in the ‘study English’ sections of Russian bookstores where classics like Sherlock Holmes could be found with Russian/English glossary sections at the back. I met my husband at Dom Knigi on Novy Arbat. Well, just outside, but same difference. 🙂 Now back in Canada, one of the first things I did was get a library card – although I still buy a lot of books. I still dream of becoming a librarian…. maybe someday. 😉

  • Fran from Manhattan says:

    Hurrah for librarians everywhere and for libraries. What an impressive library you have in Moscow. Did you ANY help unpacking and systematically shelving all those 2,000 books? Great article!

  • Julie says:

    Love the post, as usual. But really, still laughing, and agreeing, over “Saint Steve.”

  • How odd is this! I popped over here from katbat’s blog and was stunned to read in your profile that you live in Northampton sometimes? I grew up in Northampton and now live in St. Petersburg! My Forbes Library card is still in my wallet. 🙂
    Planning to move into a new flat soon with more (book)shelf space…

  • Fran, I did have some help but then I re-shelved everything.

  • Elizabeth, just popped over to your blog and loved it! We must get together if you are in Moscow or I am in St. Petersburg. Keep the library card never know! We had to move to make space for my books…

  • Julie,
    You know it is only a matter of time before we get those iPads

  • Julia,
    Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know your Russia story! I know just what you mean about the “study sections” of Dom Knigi…and don’t they smell funny, though? I thought it terribly terribly romantic you met your husband outside the book store. Is he an HRH?
    I hope you’ll stay tuned…great to have a Russia veteran on board!

  • Jamie Olson says:

    I just discovered your blog today (when Googling “Library Day” for my own post), and I’ve been having lots of fun reading your entries. Russia is a bit mad about holidays, isn’t it? Plenty of fodder for you to write on!
    I think that you’ve hit right on the mark when you describe the differences between the cultures of American and Russian libraries, but I do have one small quibble: the one library that I know anything at all about in Russia, the National Library of the Republic of Karelia, DOES in fact offer free Internet access and it IS staffed by nice people who will strike up a conversation with you. (Full disclosure: my wife’s mother and grandmother both worked there.) Maybe Muscovites are a bit grouchier than their provincial counterparts?
    Keep up the good writing!
    Jamie Olson

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