A massive fire that broke out on Friday evening has destroyed the building housing one of Moscow’s major research libraries and unique collections of social science and humanities documentation. It has been reported that an electrical fault caused the fire on one of the upper floors of the building leading the roof to collapse. Fortunately, there have been no reported fatalities or injuries as a result of the fire, but much of the library’s valuable research collection is reported to have been destroyed.
The Russian Academy Social Science Research Institute (known as INION) is located outside the city centre and has been regularly used by academics in Russia and by foreign researchers. INION was founded in 1918 and housed the collections of papers and documentation relating to the work of the League of Nations, United Nations and UNESCO, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), parliamentary papers from around the world, and an extensive collection of Russian and Soviet social science books and journals. It is also home to a unique and rare collection of Slavic language texts, some dating back to the sixteenth century, which appear not to have been damaged by the fire. INION also housed the German Historical Institute and the Centre for Russian-Franco Research.
Rumours are circulating in Moscow that the building itself has been so badly damaged that it will not be possible to restore it. Much of the undamaged stock will need to be warehoused, meaning that it will be inaccessible to readers for a substantial period of time, and may perhaps never be made available to researchers again. This is a severe blow for the Russian Academy of Sciences, the country’s most prestigious academic body. There have not yet been any official announcements about the future placement of the library’s holdings.
I conducted much of my research at INION when I was working on both my MPhil and PhD dissertations and I have used the library collections more recently for research towards subsequent publications. My Moscow research notebook is full of citations I have yet to follow up and that I will probably now never have the opportunity to look at. It was certainly a pleasant place to work, despite the fact that in the Soviet period foreign researchers were required to work in a room separate from local readers. I spent many, many fruitful research periods at INION and I’m saddened by this loss.
This is indeed a sad loss also for Moscow, for Russian scholars and for the international research community. The press are rightly reporting the fire as a ‘cultural Chernobyl’.