Almost exactly one year ago I blogged about a huge fire at the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences in Moscow as part of my IMP course.
The fire was likened to a ‘cultural Chernobyl’. Some 15% of the archives collection was thought to be lost, not just from fire but also from the water used to extinguish the flames. The roof caved in causing 1.5 million rubles worth of damage to both state property and the collection.
At the time it made me think how I would feel if I were the archivist in charge. How would I respond? Since that time, volunteering in my local archive, and seeing first hand books being deposited in the archive that have been rescued from a fire but heavily water damaged, I have discovered that sending one single book off to the conservator can cost around £800! For many archives sending just a few books off a year takes up a huge chunk of their already tightly stretched budget! The task of finding funding for this after the disaster would have been a daunting one!
I had also asked myself ‘had this collection been digitised?’ As previously mentioned in the blog one poster from the web site below stated that he had visited the archives on many occasions and it was a disaster waiting to happen, funding was a big problem and what little money there was sadly was not used to digitise these rare and unique documents. Digitisation takes up time and resources. Storage and preservation have to be considered in the long term.
Funding seems to have been the catalyst for this disaster. Since I last blogged the Moscow Main Investigations Directorate of the Russia’s Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation into the incident for negligence. Numerous fire safety regulations at the Institution had not been adequately dealt with and failure to comply with the instructions of fire safety surveillance bodies between 2005 and 2014 led to the fire. Was this due to a lack of funding in archives by the government? Indeed, it raised ‘ grave questions about the commitment of today’s Russian government to the funding of its archives’ and the Russian government had been accused of doing very little after the incident too.
The Russian government is now in the process of building a new faculty to house the remaining collection but it was the archivists in the aftermath that had set up a Facebook page and volunteers (mostly un-trained) to come in to help with the clean up, saving about one million documents. Also young people do not want to work in the profession as wages are so low. At every step, funding seems to be the problem. Digitisation, following fire safety regulations on site, cleaning up, conservation and providing for the future of the archives in terms of the profession and safeguarding these rare and unique records for future generations.
Proper safety measures should have been in place and rare documents should have been digitised. Funding is a problem which many archives face. Cost vs Benefit has to be weighed up and decisions taken, unfortunately the decisions taken here meant that the archive paid the ultimate price. Perhaps the damage wrought in Moscow may have cultural, academic and financial implications, to name but a few, for future scholars and researchers for many many years to come in Russia. Something that you can’t put a price on!