Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Fire at the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, Moscow

Last weekend, two facilities housing large quantities of records were affected by fire. Last Friday, the library of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences in Moscow, Russia caught fire. The blaze affected approximately 21,500 square feet of the library building and caused approximately 1,000 square feet of the building's roof to collapse. The damage to the institute's collections, which include published and manuscript materials, is staggering:
According to preliminary estimates, the library lost about 15 percent of its collection, which was estimated at 14.2 million documents.

Among the destroyed works were rare publications from the 16th-20th centuries, as well as unique United Nations documents. Works that were not destroyed completely suffered severe damage from smoke and water. The computer servers holding 3.5 million digital copies of the collection may also have been damaged. Additionally, the collapsed roof of the building has left many remaining documents exposed to the elements.

It will be difficult to determine exactly what has been lost since most of the library’s content had not been digitized and both card catalogues were entirely destroyed in the disaster.
At the time of this writing, the cause of the fire is unknown and recovery efforts have just begun. My heart goes out to the staff of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences is Moscow, who are about to embark upon a long, arduous journey -- and who will not live to see the journey's end. My own repository suffered a devastating fire almost 104 years ago, and some of my colleagues are still rehousing and stabilizing damaged materials and investigating new techniques for recovering information obscured by charring and other fire-related damage. I expect that this work will continue long after we are all gone.

I hope that the international library and archives communities rally to support the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences. I'll keep an eye out for developments on this front and will post updates when appropriate.

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