The 1991 Project: The Lenin Library Closes

By Liam Martin

            It had to happen eventually. On Dec. 6, 1991, as the Moscow News reported, the Lenin State Library was finally closed… for sanitary reasons. According to the writer, Martin Reesink, the cleanliness of the library, including an overpowering scent of ammonia that filled the bathrooms, was simply too much for the increasing number of foreigners using the archives. While Russians, in his opinion, were much more concerned with the availability of manuscripts and books, the foreigners expected services. Thus, the library had to be renovated to accommodate them. Reesink describes the experience of arriving at the library that morning, only to discover a small crowd arguing. Initially, it was about whether an entrance fee is needed to keep the library clean, but the conversation swiftly expanded to national politics, to the Democrats and the Bolsheviks. After all, this was Russia in 1991 – everything, even the smell of ammonia in the bathrooms of the Lenin State Library (which would be renamed the Russian State Library within a year), was a political discussion. The collapse of the USSR over the course of 1991 was nothing if not a grand drama played out in a thousand minor episodes, as every piece of society changed. I think it’s fitting to end on one such episode. There is a certain poetic nature to the idea that, after all these years, the Lenin Library was finally not good enough.

Liam Martin is a junior majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and International Studies

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