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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Libraries Bring English Materials to Moscow

Russian access to information from abroad expanded sharply this week with the opening of new public research centers and reading rooms by the United States and Britain.


Under the Soviet system, access to the "Hall of Capitalist Press" in Moscow's Foreign Literature Library required special permission and was limited to scholars, the library's director said.


This week, however, a 3-year-long process of negotiations has resulted in the opening of the two English-language centers within the walls of the Russian library.


The American Center, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday attended by U. S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, offers a U. S. Information Service research library with database services.


President Bill Clinton sent greetings on the opening of the center, which houses more than 5, 000 reference books and a collection of periodicals such as Art Forum and the Columbia Journalism Review, as well as recent copies of The New York Times.


The British Council's English-language resource center, opening officially Thursday, aims at serving English teachers. It stocks current British newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian, along with the latest language-instruction materials.


The yearly membership fee is 500 rubles (less than 50 cents).


The centers join the French Cultural Center, which opened in the Foreign Literature Library in 1990, sponsoring cultural events and providing a library and language courses.


For Russians studying English, the new centers fill a significant information gap.


"It's very good for teachers because they have access to the newest materials and textbooks", said Natalya Razgovorova, chairwoman of an English department at the Economics Faculty of the Institute of International Relations. "We have already been using facilities of the British Council library and we are sending students".


Until perestroika, instructors at the institute were permitted only to use magazines and newspapers that were at least two months old, according to another teacher there. Ironically, now that the publications are freely available, academic institutions cannot afford to buy them.


The library's director, Yekaterina Geneyeva, a fervent advocate of the new openness, criticized the Soviet restrictions.


"It was abnormal, it was sinful and it was bad', ' she said. "We have lots of new staff with the new mentality, so many things are happening now".


The foreign centers are helping the library financially in the form of grants and contributions, she said, but declined to name the amounts. The American Center's annual grant from the U. S. Information Service is about $300, 000, according to Katherine Olmstead, the center's director.


Parliamentarians recently used the database search there for background on U. S. library laws to study precedents for drafting such a law here, she said.


"Rumor has spread very quickly - we have numerous telephone requests", she said.


The database costs about $1. 50 per minute for the center to use, and Olmstead said fees will probably be charged soon for computer time, but otherwise use of the facility is free.


"This is going to be the flagship for new USIS libraries", Olmstead said.