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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberated Librarian

This column is devoted to books, writers and publishers. But it would be remiss of me not to celebrate the life and work of a unique librarian.


Vera Artisevich is approaching 90. She is, and has been for the last 65 years, the director of Saratov State University Library.


Artisevich began working in the library of Saratov, on the lower Volga, in 1929, when she was in her early 20s. In 1932 she was promoted to director, and she has never left the job. But it is not Artisevich's refusal to retire that is so amazing. More extraordinary by far is the fact that she has stayed put for so long in spite of purges and coups, changes in leadership and political direction. She has outlasted dozens of university rectors and Communist Party bosses in Saratov. She has outlived every Soviet leader since Lenin and even the Union itself.


Artisevich's daily routine is unswerving: She makes a long list in the morning of "important things to do" before going to the library and by the evening she has dealt with most of the entries. These "important things" have always included retaining her personal liberty and her ability to maneuver freely in her administrative role. Eventually, she developed such a formidable reputation for getting her own way that even the highest authorities felt compelled to do her bidding.


This explains why her establishment houses rare editions which cannot even be found in the Lenin Library; why it is unique in being granted a budget independent of the university's; and why the library itself is housed in a special building designed and constructed under Artisevich's supervision -- and, indeed, with her physical help. During the summer of 1950, she and her female colleagues, armed only with spades, helped to dig the new building's foundations.


In spite of prestigious job offers, Artisevich has always refused to leave Saratov -- realizing that, in this country, the higher you climb, the less freedom you have.