I learned this morning from my Facebook feed that the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) caught on fire destroying the third floor and causing the roof to cave in. There are conflicting reports on whether any of INION’s library perished in the flames. Vladimir Fortov, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant that 15 percent of the materials in INION were damaged. However, the institute’s director Yuri Pivovarov told TASS that “The depositories were not harmed—the building was damaged and the employees of the institute have nowhere to work.” He credited the 147 firefighters who fought the blaze for saving the books. “These guys (the firefighters) did everything they could to save the books. What remains, I think, we will rebuild.” Let’s hope so. Still the situation is catastrophic. Fortov summed things up: “This is a major library in the world. Unique materials are collected there and its scientific work is arranged so that every Russian scientific institute uses this library. To us, all this resembles Chernobyl.”
This is not just a major loss for Russian academia; it’s a tragedy for international social sciences. INION is one of Russia’s best libraries. For those not familiar with its academic importance, INION’s library was founded in 1918 and houses over 14 million books, rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League of Nations, UNESCO, the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, and reports from the legislatures of the United States, England, Italy and others since 1789. INION is also part of an international interlibrary loan system with 874 institutions spanning 69 countries. INION hosts the German Historical Institute Moscow and the Center for Franco-Russia Research as well. Last time I was there, it also housed two excellent academic bookstores, a ROSSPEN store and another I can’t remember the name of or locate on the internet.
The cause of the fire, it seems, was a short circuit in the electrical system. Moscow fire officials conducted an inspection of the institute in March 2014, fined 70,000 rubles, and gave it until January 30, 2015 to get things up to snuff. Whether the institute’s management made the repairs or not is unknown. Looks like all that doesn’t matter anymore . . .
I have really fond memories of working at INION during my dissertation research. It was a great alternative to the crowdedness of the Lenin Library. It was adjacent to a metro, had a comprehensive catalog and rich holdings, easy to navigate and a great cafeteria to boot. I also bought a lot of books from its bookstores. You couldn’t ask for more in a library. It will take a long time for INION to be a functioning library again, if ever. All I can say is what a tragedy.