Users of Moscow's Lenin Library Wrangle over Repairs - Structural and Philosophical

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Users of Moscow's Lenin Library wrangle over repairs--structural and philosophical

Users of Moscow's Lenin Library have entered into a raging controversy over how to reverse the accelerating deterioration of the library building and its 36 million books and manuscripts. The Soviet government recently allocated 98 million hard currency rubles ($165 million) to begin repairs on the national library, thought by some to be in danger of collapsing. According to a report from Moscow by Patricia Legras, published in the Feb. 14 Chronicle of Higher Education, total renovation of the building may take as long as 10 years to complete.

The controversy has arisen over whether to close the library and place its contents in limited-access storage during the reconstruction period, keep the library open while repairs go on, or construct a new building and move the library's contents only once.

Plans by the administration to close the library aroused the ire of many users, who are the scholarly elite of the Soviet Union. Last November, young historians picketed the library, gathering signatures to protest the irrationality of such a decision, especially in view of the uniqueness of the Lenin collections.

Some critics argue that most of the newly allocated money should be used to build a modern structure. The new Minister of Culture, Nikolai Gubenko, who is on record as sympathetic to the plight of libraries, visited the Lenin last December and listened to a heated four-hour debate between advocates and opponents of the planned reconstruction. Gubenko has since appointed an independent commission of experts to decide the library's future. Their decision is still pending.

Ideological damage

The debate over the Lenin Library is not just about how to improve its physical state. Evgeny Kuzmin, a Soviet journalist who frequently writes about libraries, said in an interview conducted by Librarian of Congress James Billington that the newly formed Moscow Library Association has reviewed the role of the Lenin as a national library. …

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