Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tales from Moscow

I arrived in Moscow last Sunday around noon. On Monday I gave two talks, as noted in my previous post. Tuesday, I got to take a high speed train (100 mph, if that's what 160 kilometers per hour shakes out to) to Nizhniy Novgorod, the 5th largest city in Russia. The train was very new, modern, comfortable.

The day started when I was picked up by Steve, an embassy Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer. He lived in Moscow as a student for 10 years, and his Russian is excellent. We were driven to the train station. Differences from American trains: you walk through a security gate to get in the door, then another security gate before going to the train platform. There, my passport was checked and noted by a guard. I gather that access within the country, whether for travel or work, remains subject to approvals and monitoring.

Once we arrived in Novgorod, we took a taxi to our hotel, then were met by Lyudmilla, a vivacious and articulate interpreter. She took us on a walk along the Volga River to the Linguistic University of Nizhniy Novgorod, where Lyudmila had graduated. I gave two talks: "chasing the library patron" for a group of university libraries (with a lot of ebook stuff thrown in). Lyudmilla was the translater, and giving a talk through a translater is kind of fun. Then I gave a talk for a veritable crowd of English speaking students on "intellectual freedom" (anti-censorship) in American libraries. Their English really was remarkably good, and they had lots of follow-up questions. Then Steve and I walked downtown to a place called Nostalgia and had some really remarkably good Georgian food: a kind of white salty cheese pizza with a goulash spread, and lamb ribs. Local beer.

Back at the hotel I saw a sign for billiards, which Steve asked about. We were then led through many winding corridors down to a dedicated billiard room. It was huge table with very tight pockets -- like a snooker table. There was a cue and 15 numbered balls, but all white and large. It required a lot of very precise shooting to get everything in.

The next morning Lyudmilla picked us up in her car, and took us to the City Library District of Priokskiy. There are 91 libraries in the city, most on the smallish size. This one had been recently renovated, and was very clean, brightly painted, and crammed with books. I had a chance to meet the manager of the library, who was clearly smart, competent and successful. I then presented, through the translater, on 5 trends in American libraries. With questions, this ran over 2 hours. Then I got a presentation from the manager about their library. Clearly, they are progressive and committed. They do what most American libraries do, I would say - lots of programs and partnerships with others. But the focus is far more on preservation than circulation. The state provides detailed standards for visits, holdings, and so on, and requires equally detailed reports. As a a consequence, there probably isn't as much experimentation as in American libraries. We talked about a contrast between library as warehouse, and library as bookstore. There seem to be a lot of librarians needed to keep things going -- they don't, apparently, have shared cataloging databases like OCLC, for instance. I gathered that librarianship doesn't pay well in Russia or have much prestige. Yet I found in them the same passion for service that we see in the States.

Following this, Steve, Lyudmilla and I went out for lunch -- I had chicken fillet, rice and vegetables, all rich, creamy, and yummy.

We hopped back on the train, and sat in the diner car on the way back chatting. A most pleasant way to travel. Between the two cities (a four hour ride) are miles and miles of forest, alternating between very tall but skinny pines, and birch. There was snow on the ground, although not a lot. Both in Moscow and in Nizhniy Novgorod, I showed up for the first snow of the year. I gather that's unusual. But it's been snowing ever since!

I came back to my hotel, got a new room with essentially the same very plush interior as the last, but on a different floor. I'm not sure why this is, but the first night, I had to step up from the hallway about six steps to my room. On the next floor up, I step down about six steps.

Breakfast buffet this morning, and in a little while, I'm off to the Russian State Library to talk about trends, censorship, AND chasing the library patron to 20-30 librarians from the largest Moscow libraries. Following that, I talk about ebooks to (I think) a different group. Finally, I gather I'm being interviewed for the Theory and Practice website (

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