SO! As many of you know, I have been working as a full time Librarian this summer in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.. While at first I was simply, purely relieved that I would not be taking another step down the suicidal road of studying Russian language at the Middlebury Summer Language Program (10 grand for a summer!?!?), I now realize that it isn’t easy being a Librarian either. I thought this would be a nice break away from the constant feeling of failure and misunderstanding that shadows every action of my life, but it turns out that my nightmares have increased, and they mostly involve a heated battle/chase by towering bearded librarians in tall pointy hats. And they’re in black and white. Or sepia, if it’s a Monday.
I am part of a 2-intern team (woooo!) working on the Yudin Collection Card File Project, which involves cataloging 80,000 volumes of mostly Russian-language publications (books, journals, manuscripts, and ephemera) donated from the personal Library of Genadii Vasilivich Yudin in 1906. Follow me on a photo-adventure across the frozen taiga, and more taiga, and still more taiga, into the barren east of Siberia–KRASNOYARSK!!!!!!!!!
Ok, so this is modern Krasnoyarsk, and while it is endearing and oh-so Russian, it is nothing like the city in which Yudin lived in the 19th century. He was a wealthy merchant and wino (or, he owned a winery), who began collecting books at the ripe young age of 14, when he won the lottery (Russia!). Fun fact: he won the lottery twice. But anyway, he started collecting books, and as his collection grew over the years he developed contacts across Russia and THE WORLD. What a G (literally! I have been waiting my entire life to use that phrase properly). After a devastating fire that destroyed a lot of izba’s (pictured below), Yudin built his own library on a hill overlooking the town, safe from slippery matchbook types. He didn’t allow gas lamps in his library for fear of fire, and thus patrons could only read by the light of day. He kept three small cats to dismember vermin who would otherwise eat his books. We know this because one fine day a shelf toppled on top of one of the helpless felines and his blood was spattered all over volumes 3-6 of the Novosibirsk Agricultural Catalog on Tractor Implementation and Development.
Yudin lived a life of plenty, a life of intellectual breadth and style, a life of gilded ice cream cones and platinum anklets. But, as we all must know and suspect, this life came to a screeching halt with the revolution of 1905 and COMMUNISM. Kulaks, or wealthy peasants and merchants, were targeted by the revolutionaries for being harbingers of evil–they were killed in many inventive ways, and their belongings, including impressive collections of books, art, manuscripts, and music, were repo’d by the government or “redistributed” amongst the people by the revolutionaries themselves. Yudin foresaw the coming turmoil and tried to sell to the dilapidated government his precious collection, but was ultimately forced to sell to the LOC for 100,000 rubles, or about 50,000 dollars. Shit man!
His original wish that the collection remain together forever, in its own special room, was honored for a few years. But as one quickly learns, the LOC is a dynamic, ever-growing institution that will NEVER have enough room for the 160 million pieces in its possession, so it redistributed the volumes throughout the general collection of the library based on call number (aka subject area). This makes logistical sense, but as the books were never cataloged correctly or fully and there is no indicator of Yudin provenance (previous ownership), the collection as an entity is currently un-researchable. Enter ME and fellow intern.We are working on updating the online records based on the original, hand-written catalog cards from Yudin’s personal library in Krasnoyarsk. There are 80,000 notecards. This project is a summer-only event (this probably isn’t something you would be happy spending your tax dollars on anyway so don’t worry too much), and is in its third year of operation. At the current rate, it would take 40 years to complete the project. Volunteers, anyone?
Here are my daily responsibilities (if you are already bored out of your mind, just look at the pictures–you’ll get the idea).
1. Attempt to read 19th century Russian handwriting. BTW, the alphabet was different before the revolution.
2. Locate the record in the universal online cataloging system, MARC 21
3. Look up the original catalog card, either on the sub-basement level of the Madison building, which is across the street, or in the National Union Catalog. Due to my dyslexia the alphabet is very hard for me.
4. Update the record. OR, if the book looks interesting, go find it! Sometimes you will discover definite indicators that the book belonged to Yudin’s library, like bookplates, booksellers’ labels, or blindstamps.
If you really want to read about this project academically (and in detail), check out the article written by my supervisor for the LOC website: http://www.loc.gov/rr/european/yudin/yudin-dash.html
It has been a fun and rewarding experience so far–I love the folks in the division, my fellow interns, and the relative importance of this project. I am learning a lot about myself here–for example, I like doing things that are a) hard, b) deemed as unnecessary or irrelevant, c) important to 12 or 13 people (brilliant people), d) intellectually rewarding, e) Pandora-enabled. Girls’ gotta jam. My biggest complaint is that my office likes to replicate the climate of Siberia. We are discussing office Snuggies but idk if they will make it into the budget, seeing as the United States in collapsing and all. Long Live the Republic!
I hope this wasn’t too much of a snore–I tried to include a lot of pictorial evidence of excellence.
Next week my post will probably be 4 lines long because my man will be visiting and we will be eating cupcakes and chasing pigeons around the WWII fountain.