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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Information: The Best Kind of Aid

One of the most important commodities for survival and success in a competitive world is information. That is why the recent opening of public research centers by the United States and Britain is such good news.


The American Cultural Center and the British Council's Resource Center, which both opened last week in Moscow's Foreign Literature Library, are providing Russian teachers, scholars, students and interested citizens with access to the kind of information that was once forbidden here.


The resource centers join the French Cultural Center, which opened in the Foreign Literature Library in 1990. Until then, Russians had no access to information from foreign libraries because the Soviet government did not allow such facilities.


The days when Russians pored over copies of Newsweek and Time smuggled in by foreign visitors, nervously listened to the shortwave broadcasts of Radio Liberty for news of their own country as well as the West and circulated tattered samizdat copies of forbidden literature are, thankfully, long gone.


But the freedom to gather and read any kind of information does not mean that everyone can now afford to do so. Access to foreign magazines, newspapers and research materials is still a complicated and expensive proposition for most Russians. Even prominent academic institutions have little money for the materials they need to continue their research.


The American Cultural Center offers a U. S. Information Service research library with more than 5, 000 reference books, a collection of current periodicals and, perhaps most significant, database research services. The database services include access to Legi-Slate, which contains the most current information on the status of bills pending in the U. S. Congress, as well as the full daily text of The Washington Post.


The British Council's English-language resource center, which is designed to assist English teachers, has the latest language-instruction materials, as well as current British newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian.


The centers represent the best kind of cultural aid a foreign country can offer. Rather than disseminating information of a particular slant, the centers simply make available all kinds of information. It is a welcome change from the days when government cultural programs were largely limited to exhibits idealizing the achievements and lifestyle of a particular country.


If they remain truly public - as they are now, operating either for free or for minimal fees - the resource centers will set a valuable example of what a public library should be in Russia.