WE ARRIVED in Moscow with the bare outline for a colloquium on library services for children--the second delegate exchange under the recent U.S.-USSR Commission on Library Cooperation and the first in the Soviet Union in more than ten years.
The experience was so illuminating it changed the attitudes of the U.S. delegates toward the whole approach to children's services in public libraries. Mostly, we were stunned at the amount of research conducted, the warmth and hospitality of our hosts, the cultural approach to children's services, and the amazingly beautiful children's libraries. So extraordinary were these separate facilities that in a discussion about whether the Russian should merge them with adult libraries, Mary Somerville told our Soviet colleagues "to fight to the death to keep your children's libraries."
The colloquium opened in the State Republican Children's Library of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in Moscow, where we were welcomed by Evgenij A. Fenelonov, deputy director, the Lenin State Library; Idar K. Nazmutdinov, deputy chief, Library Administration, USSR Ministry of Culture; and Lidijia M. Zharkova, director, the Children's Library. Approximately 20 people sat around the table, with the flags of the U.S. and the USSR on display. More than 30 children's library observers from other Soviet Republics also attended.
A Soviet Library Association?
The first morning was taken up principally with my paper on and a discussion about the work of ALSC and ALA since, as we learned that day, the Soviets, plan to start a Soviet Library Association in January and were eager to see such items as our publications, posters, and membership brochures. Presiding were Julija Prosalkova of the Lenin State Library of the USSR, Natalja E. Dobrynina, Chief, Department of Research on Reading of the Lenin State Library, and I.
As our dialogues continued into the following days--and usually well into the nights--our excitement mounted, a deep interest began, and our relationships with the Soviets took on a less formal, more intimate feeling. (We kept our tired translators very busy.) We discovered the strengths and differences of each country and the commonality of our problems, inluding low status, low pay, loss of public librarians to schools that offer better salaries, difficulty in getting good literature for children, concern for access to information, and fee versus free library service. We also were unanimous in our outlook that the future belongs to our children, who must live in friendship and peace, and that we are committed to using children's books to achieve this end. We also committed ourselves to continue our dialogues and exchange of information.
Touring children's libraries
The colloquium rolled along formally and informally, as we toured republican, district, city, and rural children's libraries in Moscow, Kiev, and outlying districts in the Ukraine. The entrances at each of these libraries were distinctive in beautiful artwork, quietness, and with no books visible. This is deliberate since the libraries serve two functions, as cultural centers and as research centers for children (ages preschool to age 15) as well as for teachers, parents, and other adults.
One example was the entrance hall of the State Republican Lenin Komsomol Library of the Ukrainian SSR for Children in Kiev with beautiful fountains filled with tall, unusual ceramic flowers meant "to awaken fantasy in the child," according to Anastassija Stepanovna, the director. She said the entry was "designed to break the energy of the children and bring them quietly to the book. Children are encouraged to talk and to think before they read. This is not to take away from reading, but to make the child think he wants to read, that the child is invited to read. We want children to be interested in everything, including poetry, music, art, dance, puppets, opera, exhibits--and the building is designed to do this. …