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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Getty Grant to Aid Gutted Library

Five years after a fire devastated the collections of St. Petersburg's Academy of Sciences Library, international experts gathered this week in one of its long, dark reading rooms to try to give Russia's valuable but endangered archives a new lease on life.


The conference focused not just on a planned new conservation center, but also on the need to redirect the energies of Russian librarians.


Following the 1988 fire at the Academy of Sciences Library, known in St. Petersburg by its acronym BAN, scientists managed to salvage many damaged books, even freezing 175, 000 water-soaked volumes in the city's food freezers to prevent them from molding.


But 400, 000 volumes were destroyed and another 3. 6 million damaged, and the next step - preventing further deterioration - has only just begun. Many experts spoke at the conference about the need for Russian specialists to shift their attention from repairing books to preventing damage from occurring in the first place.


"We need to change our psychology", said Valery Leonov, director of the library. "But you know, librarians are very conservative people".


In addition to theoretical advice, the library is also in severe need of funds. According to Leonov, BAN staff have not been paid since April.


The Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute announced on Tuesday grants of $163, 600 for conservation work in St. Petersburg, including development of preventive techniques.


Most of the money, $123, 600, will go toward conservation equipment for a proposed new regional conservation center which would train scientists, provide conservation information and perhaps serve as a research center for the former Soviet republics.


Jane Slate Siena, head of institutional relations at Getty and co-organizer of the conference, said work on setting up the center should get started "within the next few months".


The remainder of the grant money will be divided between the Faberge Arts Foundation and a fund for fellowships and conservation training in St. Petersburg, which will each receive $20, 000.


With holdings of approximately 30 million items, the library is one of the largest in-the world, and contains priceless collections of manuscripts and early printed books in the Russian language.