Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Russian Libraries Facing Popular Resistance to Digitalization, New Study Reports

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Despite the experience during the pandemic when ever more aspects of Russian life became digital and virtual, users of Russian libraries are resisting changes in them because they retain images of what a library should be from the past. As a result, Moscow’s hopes for rapid change are facing resistance.

            According to joint research by the Russian State Library and the Higher School of Economics, this resistance is calling into question expectations that reforms in 767 libraries (out of the 40,000 in the country) will rapidly “diffuse” to the rest in the next few years (iq.hse.ru/news/463393451.html).

            A survey conducted as part of this research found that “library users up to now have not come to a clear agreement on what is ‘possible’ and what ‘must not be done’ in libraries.” It found that 34 percent of Russians oppose having a café in a library, 31 percent don’t want special children’s rooms, and 21 percent are against linked their library to the world wide web.

            But roughly similar shares of the population express diametrically opposite views, declaring that they would welcome cafes, children’s rooms (so as to have places for adults only), and Wi-Fi connectivity so that they could gain access to a variety of sources of information and entertainment.

            Although libraries in many parts of Russia have sought to go online during the pandemic, there is still little consensus that they should continue that after the coronavirus is defeated. And that lack of consensus threatens the future of Russian intellectual life because it means that Russia will fall further behind the West where libraries have become information centers.

            If Russian libraries are to make this transition, the study says, the country must transform the nature of the profession of librarian. At present, most Russians and many librarians see it as a pensioner activity. But if the country is to modernize its information network, librarians need to be from younger age groups more familiar with the digital age.

            That won’t be easy as there is a serious deficit of younger librarians and because there remains among them and among many Russians “a fear of technologies,” something that leads the librarians to resist making necessary changes and feeds into popular attitudes against the internet in many places.

            At present, the authors of the study suggest, there is little willingness on the part of the Russian government to address these problems even though there is growing recognition that unless they are, the consequences for the future of the country may be dire indeed.

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