A story on why an honoured guest from Moscow refused to enter the University library, on a prediction made by the Dean of the Faculty of Economics, on how it is possible to build a boiler house when building a library... And on many other things...

A detective story

The schedule of a comprehensive inspection of the University library stock — the first one in several dozen years — was set by Order No 1053/1 of 23 July 2007, which was issued following, among other things, the results of a meeting between St Petersburg University’s leadership and an important guest from Moscow who, after hearing about the bad condition of book storage areas, the library equipment, and the system of monitoring the preservation of books, flatly refused to even take a  quick look at all the “mess” and instead recommended “taking an inventory of the University’s book stock” (on the condition of the University library holdings, see The Virtual Office: We managed to put an end to lawlessness; Books returned to the readersMinutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 22 June 2015, clause 7).

Already in the early 2000s, in order to solve the problem of storing the library stock, financing from the federal budget was provided for the renovation and then reconstruction of the former buildings of the Research Institute of Physics (NIFI) and the Research Institute of the Earth’s Crust (NIIZK) located at buildings S and Sh, 7/9 Universitetskaya Embankment. The approved project could not be called modern. For instance, the floor structure of the buildings was not designed to house modern, high-density library storage facilities, which allow for storing 40% more books in the same space. The design did not include a large number of workspaces for access to academic electronic resources, but it included vast spaces for the offices of the director and assistant directors of the library, as well as a conference hall. The gross floor area of the library buildings, according to the design, was 19198.6 square metres, with the library storage area comprising only 5188.1 square metres, while the leadership office area was going to occupy 70.6 square metres and the conference halls — 165.4 square metres. So they planned to renovate the buildings for housing an outdated library facility suitable for the last century. This is not at all surprising, in view of the fact that the project for the renovation of these buildings was designed back in the 1990s. During a meeting held by Rector L. Verbitskaya to discuss the renovation project, a heated discussion started. Vice Rector for Facilities Management L. Ognev made a report on the need to implement the reconstruction project. He was supported by the leadership of the library, the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Vice Rectors for fields of studies.

The Dean of the Faculty of Law, N. Kropachev, opposed the implementation of the existing version of the project; his position was supported by the Dean of the Faculty of Economics, I. Boiko. Apart from pointing out the faults of the project, they emphasised the need first to work together with the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences in order to establish a coordinated policy for the development of the two libraries — the RAS Library and the St Petersburg University Library — and only after that make any decisions about construction work. The fact is that the two libraries are located about a hundred metres from each other. Indeed, the RAS Library has mostly focused on the needs of researchers from various academic institutions of Leningrad / St Petersburg, which has determined the predominantly research-oriented character of its holdings, while the St Petersburg University Research Library has always been oriented towards two key areas of the University activities, namely educational and research work and, as a result, its collections represent a combination of learning and teaching materials, on the one hand, and scientific and research literature, on the other hand.

If in the past the issues of stock acquisitions for both libraries were under the supervision of the same government agencies and, as a result, the practice of coordinated acquisitions was followed, now, with each passing year, lack of cooperation between agencies is becoming more and more pronounced. This leads to considerable overlap — and sometimes direct duplication — of editions acquired for the research holdings of the two neighbouring libraries. The costs of library stock acquisitions in both cases are borne primarily by the federal budget, and it seems inadmissible to encourage such duplications and scatter the allocated funds that are already limited. At the same time, both organisations (the RAS Library and the St Petersburg University Library) keep facing difficulties in finding storage space for constantly augmenting holdings, which leads to the need to build new buildings or repurposes the older ones in order to cater to the needs of the libraries. Besides, traditionally a large proportion (up to 80 %) of the readers working in the RAS Library’s main building are teachers and researchers from St Petersburg University.

Unfortunately, these arguments did not convince the participants of the meeting, and the construction work began. It is interesting to note, however, that the funds directly allocated for the reconstruction of the premises to house the library holdings, in violation of all regulations, were spent not on the approved project but on renovation of a boiler house, while the boiler house itself was structurally joined to the building of the former NIIZK (i.e., to the building of the future library).

As a result of the reconstruction of the former NIFI building that took place in 2005-2006, an additional structure with an attic floor was constructed, which was also joined to the main building. The reconstruction was carried out in the absence of any documents permitting such work (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 27 January 2014 (with Addendum of 13 February 2015, clause 2). The construction permit was obtained only two years after the start of the construction. By that time, a large part of the funds allocated for the renovation and reconstruction had already been spent (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 05 December 2011, clause 5).

These circumstances became clear in 2007, when Senior Vice-Rector of St Petersburg University, N. Kropachev, was instructed by the Rector to take part in the work of the Review Committee for the renovated building. The examination of the documents (carried out by A. Soloviev, Administrative Assistant to the Senior Vice-Rector) showed that St Petersburg University was not really the organisation holding the right to establish a review committee. The leadership of the Russian Ministry of Education, in its turn, despite the multiple requests from the Rector of St Petersburg University, L. Verbitskaya, and then Rector N. Kropachev, delayed the decision till the end of 2009. This was probably due to the foresight of important Moscow officials, who managed from afar to sense the problems of the construction project. The situation around the facilities management at the University at the time definitely had its influence as well. This was the time when an active investigation was going on into the embezzlement of almost 1.5 million dollars during the renovation of the roof of the University’s Main Building (see A scandal at St Petersburg University: Serious financial violations exposedA Vice Rector of St Petersburg University receives an 8-year suspended sentenceBuilders convicted for embezzlement at St Petersburg University), and the media kept discussing the information about the inspection by the Federal Service for Fiscal and Budgetary Supervision of the Russian Federation of the construction works at the Bobrinsky Palace (see The renovation of the Bobrinsky Palace cost 368 million roublesBobrinsky Palace is ready to receive students). In 2006, following information about the arrest of the Vice-Rector for Facilities Management that had appeared in the mass media, Rector I. Boiko convened an urgent meeting. Professor Boiko, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and head of the Commission on Financial Affairs of the St Petersburg University Academic Council, uttered words that came as a bombshell. When asked by the Rector what staff changes were necessary in connection with Vice-Rector L. Ognev’s arrest, I. Boiko answered, “It is necessary to take a number of measures directly aimed at preventing large-scale embezzlement in the future, since as long as the conditions that encourage theft remain in place, no personnel changes will be able to prevent it...” (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 05 December 2011, clause 5). The prophetic warning made by I. Boiko was soon fulfilled.

In 2009, criminal proceedings were instituted against the same officers who headed facilities management at the University — the former Vice-Rector L. Ognev; the chief engineer of the St Petersburg University Vasilyevsky Island Training and Research Complex Yu. Chekalin; V. Sobolev and V. Sakhnovsky, who at different times headed the directorate for the construction of St Petersburg University buildings; as well as the general director of OOO “RSP Balvik” (the contractor) S.A. Kalinin and the chief engineer and the actual head of OOO “RSP Balvik” B. Balanov. They were accused of misappropriating funds allocated for the repurposing of the former NIFI building to house the library. In addition, the investigation established that the initial project documentation (which had been officially appraised and for which millions from the public funds had been allocated) had been significantly changed during the renovation work. These changes had not been in any way approved by the authorities. The Imperial St Petersburg University Cultural Heritage Site used to have three separate buildings — the former NIFI building, the former NIIZK building and the boiler house. And now a new building appeared. It was reconstructed illegally and combined with the former NIIZK building and the boiler room. This was the reason for putting the construction on hold, and as a result the library collections never moved into the new premises.

The investigation established that the money allocated from the federal budget for the reconstruction of the former NIIZK and NIFI buildings was not just used for unauthorised purposes (to implement an unapproved project) but had been, to a great extent, misappropriated as a result of criminal activities. They were performed by the management of the contracting firm and the aforementioned University officers, who, at the time, were responsible for the facilities management of the University, for major repairs, and the reconstruction of the University’s buildings. Misappropriation of almost 1.5 million dollars was proved in court, and responsible officers were convicted in 2011. The general director of OOO “RSP Balvik”, S. Kalinin, together with the chief engineer of the same company, B. Balanov, who had been performing the renovation and reconstruction of the mentioned buildings, as well as their accomplices Yu. Chekalin, V. Sobolev and V. Sakhnovsky, were found guilty of the following crimes: fraud committed by an organised group on a large scale, embezzlement and legalisation (laundering) of money or other property acquired by a person as a result of crime (Articles 159, part 4; 33, part 5; 160, part 4; 159, part 4; 174.1, part 2, clauses “a” and “b” of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The total amount of damage proved by the investigation was over 1.5 million dollars.

One of the persons named in the criminal case was Yu. Chekalin, chief engineer of the St Petersburg University Vasilyevsky Island Training and Research Complex (see Chief engineer of St Petersburg University is accused of embezzling 38 million of budget money). He, however, nominally remained on the employment rolls of the University, as he sometimes was the only source of information about the structural condition of University buildings and other highly important information. A whole number of University locations did not have documents on construction and repair works.  Therefore, it was not possible to fire Yu. Chekalin right away. He continued to be employed for a while, so as not to bring economic activities related to the buildings to a standstill.

It is necessary in this respect to mention the strange position of some officials from the Federal Agency for Education (this was the department responsible for overseeing the work of the University at the time), who made decisions on allocation of funds and approved reports of their application. And this was happening in a situation when instead of repurposing the building for the needs of the library, as it was written in the design documents, the boiler house was being rebuilt! How could it have been missed?! The story looks even more mysterious in light of the fact that when the violations had already been exposed and the investigation was going on, and even the construction work had been stopped because it had not been carried out as designed, they still continued to provide funds for financing the unauthorised construction work. For several months in 2007, for instance, they tried to convince the leadership of the University to accept first several dozen million roubles and then several million roubles for continuing that unauthorised construction. At the end of 2007 (and without the consent from the University), the decision was made to provide one million roubles for that purpose. This happened despite numerous letters sent by the leadership of St Petersburg University stating the impossibility of spending the money, and despite all requests to stop the construction. Many members of the University still cannot understand the situation: University books have to stand in three or four rows on the shelves of the Main Building while “a good, modern, new building”, where several hundred thousand books could be kept, “stands idle”.

In the early 2008, heads of the University facilities administration joined forces with the deans of some faculties and ardently insisted on the need to move the most valuable library stock to the “additional building with an attic floor” as soon as possible — for the sake of “saving the books”! This issue was discussed by the Academic Council Permanent Committee for Academic Affairs chaired by the former dean of the Faculty of Medicine, S. Petrov. The Committee unanimously supported the initiative and submitted a respective request to Vice-Rector for Research, I. Gorlinsky, to whom the director of the library reported at the time.

Why was it not done? Operation of any building requires connection to utility networks (the electrical network, the water supply system, the waste water disposal system). This connection is performed by companies responsible for such services (Vodokanal, the Fuel and Energy Complex of St Petersburg, etc.). Since all these structures are considered to be “unauthorised constructions”, connection of these buildings to networks is impossible! For several years the leadership of the University has been trying to solve the problem created by its predecessors. The reconstructed and constructed buildings have still not been put in commission due to the absence of officially approved engineering documentation. The St Petersburg State Construction Supervision and Expertise Department has just recently once again refused to issue a statement of conformity and permission to put the unauthorised capital construction facility into commission (reply by the head of the Department, L. Kulakov, of 26 October 2015 to the request from Vice-Rector for Economic Development M. Kudilinsky).

There is another obstacle as well. The buildings repurposed for the needs of the library do not occupy a separate plot of land but, according to the certificate of state registered ownership, are located on a land plot of the St Petersburg University Main Campus, with 33 other buildings situated on it. For many years, while the leaders of the University facilities management department had been so successfully spending government money on repairing the roof of the Main Building (a criminal case initiated in 2006, see A scandal at St Petersburg University: Serious financial violations exposed), reconstructing buildings to house the library (a criminal case initiated in 2009, see Chief engineer of St Petersburg University is accused of embezzling 38 million of budget money), and renovating halls of residence No 8 in Peterhof (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 26 October 2015, clause 2), heads of various University divisions and departments were also free to use sometimes quite considerable financial resources without control. The results were not long in coming. Not only did the deans and directors of large and small centres actively open cafes and restaurants, hotels, markets and bathhouses (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 26 October 2015, clause 2; Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 18 April 2011, clause 8; Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 02 April 2012, clause 3), but also invested significant funds in renovation works and carried out reconstruction not authorised by the property owner (currently this is the Federal Agency for State Property Management), the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation. Some University employees even praised their deans for the renovation of the faculties back then, while others were quietly wondering about the price of these renovations, which sometimes was two or three times higher than the city average. Meanwhile, they continued spending money on renovations. If we just take the area of the Main Campus, for instance, such unauthorised reconstruction was carried out in the buildings located at the following addresses: 3 Filologichesky Alley, building P; 7-9-11 Universitetskaya Embankment, building С; 7-9-11 Universitetskaya Embankment, building OA). Now the Federal Agency for State Property Management represented by its Territorial Administration in St Petersburg wants all these instances of architectural redesign to be corrected. Where can we get the money for such remedial work? All the periods of limitation have already expired, and the deans themselves are not eager to generously provide money for the remedial work on their own initiative and from their own pockets. All this represents an additional and serious obstacle for registering ownership rights of St Petersburg University to the entire land plot of the  University Main Campus (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 07 October 2013, clause 4).

However, as the building, even though built without official permission, has undergone additional repairs and does not pose any risks to human life and health, which has been confirmed by independent experts, we are going to try to obtain legitimisation of the existing reconstruction of the former NIIZK building, in court before the end of 2016, with the help of the Territorial Administration of the Federal Agency for State Property Management (Rosimushchestvo) in St Petersburg, which is trying to help St Petersburg University in solving this difficult problem.

Let us repeat that the project to turn the former NIFI building into a library was designed at the end of the last century and no longer conforms to the modern fire safety and sanitary requirements, and the technology now is much more advanced. Designs of modern libraries and library storage spaces of the 21st century include automation and computerisation of work with the library stock, for which the project certainly has no provisions… Therefore, a new project for the renovation of this building is now being developed, which will include workstations as well as learning and research spaces for St Petersburg University biologists.


A detective story 2

Now a few words about the problem of preservation and consolidation of the St Petersburg University library holdings so that they could be accessible not only for the members of separate departments, but for any interested teachers, researchers or students. According to the Director of the Maksim Gorky Research Library, Marina Karpova, “stocktaking of the University library holdings currently follows two directions at once: on the one hand, the library undergoes a scheduled inventory check, and on the other hand, there is also a centralised registration based on this inventory check of all book collections that have been accumulated by the University. One of the most important tasks performed in this respect by the employees of the Research Library is the recording for both library and accounting purposes of the so-called “book collections of departments and societies”, i.e. editions that belong to St Petersburg University that for a long time have been excluded from general use and, in many cases, have been stored in conditions unsuitable for book storage.  

Inventory checking of the library holdings has been carried out for more than eight years, but the library remains open for its readers. The previous full stock take was held in 1953, and back then the library remained closed for readers for three years and the library employees spent all their working hours taking stock of the library holdings… If the University has a lot of books and stocktaking has not been held for a long time, it is hard to identify the priorities (more than 500,000 books found by the Rector in Peterhof were all checked against the records in 2011—2012; books from the library of the Bestuzhev Courses were checked against the accounting documents in 2012; sorting out and taking stock of about 90,000 books from the basement of the Jeu de Paum buildings is now in progress, see A Book ClinicThe Virtual Office: We managed to put an end to lawlessness).

This process took a new turn after certain dramatic events. More than a year ago, somebody robbed the summer house of an employee of St Petersburg University. The law-enforcement agencies found some of the stolen property and at that point informed the University that among the recovered things there were several valuable 19th-century editions with the stamp of the Museum of Antiquities of St Petersburg Imperial University! It should be stressed that the robbed employee included these books in the list of stolen property as personal possessions! The initial materials of the criminal case already showed that there was some connection between the storage of the books in the house of the University employee and the books from the so-called “departmental collections”, which are regarded by some staff members not so much as the University’s books but as “belonging to their department”. This is when a decision was made to immediately begin an inspection of the work procedures and the preservation of books in “departmental collections”. It was then found out that the so-called “book collections of departments and societies” include tens of thousands of University books which cost millions of roubles, according to preliminary estimates (see The Virtual Office: We managed to put an end to lawlessness).

Within the walls of the University, you will find numerous thematic collections. “They have been in the making for many decades, and some of them, for instance, history and philology collections, date back to the 19th century, to the museums and exhibitions rooms of the University. These book collections were created by teachers and other staff members: they sometimes wanted to have the books that they had personally bought to be at hand at their work place; some books were gifts; sometimes researchers would bequeath whole thematic collections to the University because they wanted their colleagues to continue using them in their research and teaching work,” M. Karpova explained.

Collecting the book collections

The book collection of the University, which is now kept in the Maksim Gorky Research Library, was started by Catherine the Great. She bought the private collection of Collegiate Councillor Petr Zhukov, who had during his lifetime built up a considerable book collection — more than a thousand editions in Russian and French. The Empress, who understood the importance of a library for the cause of enlightenment, gave the collection to the Normal School when it was opened in December 1783. In 1819, Zhukov’s collection formed the core of the library of the re-established St Petersburg University (for a short chronology of St Petersburg University history, see St Petersburg University Magazine, No 1 (3876), p. 18University Chronicles). Today, the library holds more than 6.6 million books and manuscripts, dozens and even hundreds of book collections.

Currently, stocktaking of such “departmental collections” is carried out by the University, with the aim of inspecting and describing them. The main purpose is to evaluate the size and value of the collections, to catalogue them, i.e. to carry out a centralised recording of all editions and to register every edition in accordance with all the rules of the library so that the books could be used not only by the members of a particular department but by all members of the University. All St Petersburg University resources should be available for all University members.

A large amount of work has already been undertaken in relation to monitoring the departmental collections in the field of philology: we have already made a list of all rooms where the books are kept with information on their approximate numbers. For example, there are 30,000 editions in the room housing the Department of Slavonic Philology. “It is noteworthy that the use of this particular book collection is, to a great extent, organised in accordance with standard library rules: books are lent out only during the work hours of the departmental assistant, materials are charged with the help of circulation slips, and all loan information such as date loaned and date returned is manually registered. This work is well-organised, thanks to the departmental assistant who had been performing this work for many years,” M. Karpova emphasised.

The work on registering and describing departmental collections may lead to a discovery of rare and valuable editions. “Such book collections include both editions published in the 19th century and those published in the 20th century before 1945. This represents a certain chronological watershed for Russian librarianship. Every edition published before that time is considered unique because you can never say, what if this is the only remaining copy of a particular edition?” the Director of the Library said.

One example of such centralised registration is the work undertaken for the transfer and documentation of 1,833 books which used to be kept at the Yu. Perov Philosophy Room. As of today, the books have been transferred to the main library holdings where they are currently undergoing scientific and technical processing. These books will be available for all readers in the open access reading room for the thematic book collections of the Social Sciences Library, which will soon be opened at 5 Mendeleevskaya Line of Vasilyevsky Island… Organising a centralised and standardised recording of such book collections is a task that involves all members of the University staff. Owing to our joint efforts, we have already registered books from collections of the Society of Naturalists (28,402 storage units), the Russian Chemical Society (119,476 storage units), and the Centre for German and European studies (1,981 storage units).

An inventory check in Room 93 located at 5 Mendeleevskaya Line of Vasilyevsky Island found 461 printed editions stored there. These editions have been catalogued as A. Nemilov’s Library (a working title). We found that after the Professor of History A. Nemilov died, his relatives gave books from his personal library to the University. The editions were handed over to the University without any accompanying documents, and while they were stored in Room 93 at 5 Mendeleevskaya Line of Vasilyevsky, no special records were kept. By the efforts of the library employees, the books were moved to storage spaces of a corresponding subject library department. The list of all editions has been made and now the documentation for putting them on the books is being prepared. These books will become available for readers in the new, soon to be open, open access reading room, in accordance with the rules.

After an inventory check, the book collection of the Department of Biblical Studies, with 19,219 storage units, has also been catalogued. Now we are working on providing comprehensive, machine-readable records for the electronic catalogue of the St Petersburg University Library, with the aim of stocktaking and recording all the editions. During the last year, just one librarian responsible for this area of work created 2,573 such records… In 2015, in order to organise stocktaking by a third party, we created machine-readable records for editions in Finnish and Hungarian which are kept in Room 199 at 11 Universitetskaya Embankment. Altogether, we have processed 11,800 editions. The resulting records will be included in the electronic catalogue of the Maksim Gorky Research Library; the documentation needed for putting these holdings on the library accounts and accounting books has already been prepared…

To examine, to register and to describe

Members of stocktaking groups created by Order No 9355/1 of 04 December 2015 have their work cut out for them. The stocktaking process is time-consuming: every single (!) edition has to be found, taken off the shelf, opened and checked against accounts and records (if there are any). If there are no documents, every edition has to be examined, described and accounted for. This is not a fast process.

Librarians sometimes use the method of visual assessment: one shelf metre can hold about 40-45 editions. This is, of course, an average rate. According to preliminary estimates, just the building at 11 Universitetskaya Embankment in its various rooms holds about 90,000 books. The second largest departmental library holdings are kept at 5 Mendeleevskaya Line.

The University scheduled inventory check to be held in 2015-2016 (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 26 October 2015, clause 8) includes stocktaking of St Petersburg University library holdings kept in the rooms of the University building at 11 Universitetskaya Embankment. The question of whether the newly registered books should be moved to the Library will be decided on a case-to-case basis. Large book collections will most probably remain where they are today. The difference is that they will be now centrally registered and will be loaned out in accordance with the library rules by responsible employees. “Small collections and highly valuable editions, however, should be kept in the Library,” M. Kaprova said.

As a result of the inventory, many editions from book collections with previously limited access get registered in the unified stock of the University Library; they can be used for research and are available to all members of the University. Any researcher — from a philologist to a mathematician — understands the importance of word order in a sentence or the order of operations in solving a problem. Library science is an academic discipline like any other. It is governed by rigorous rules and standards of its own. And this is the only reason why, among millions and millions of books, we are able to find the one that we need right now.