International Relations at the Lenin Library

The following piece is taken from The Russia Reader edited by Bruce Grant and Adele Barker (Duke University Press, 2010). The book is part of a larger series that Duke is doing on the major countries of the world. The introduction below has been written by Adele Barker, one of the editors of the book.

International Relations at the Lenin Library


The Lenin Library, with Dostoevsky and a large banner of a Soviet medal displayed in front. Photo by SRAS student A. Sanders.

In putting together this volume, we wanted to find material that had not previously been included in readers, material that would give the reader a sense of the texture of Russian life from earliest times up through the present. We wanted to cast our nets widely across history, literature, political life, art, the countryside, and the everyday (shopping, cooking, housing, Soviet anecdotes). We spent weeks, indeed months, amassing syllabi, combing through the stacks in our respective university libraries, talking to colleagues in the US and Europe, and discussing texts with each other, often with thousands of miles between us. And we wanted as many of the selections as possible to be by Russians themselves.

We realized early on that there was material whose importance was such that we needed to include it even though it had been heavily anthologized already (Lenin’s Testament or selections from The Igor Tale). For the most part, however, we sought out selections which had never been translated before, that would cast a fresh eye on Russia and the Russians.

One day as I was explaining the project to my colleague Jane Zavisca, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, she told me that she had an unpublished manuscript written by an elderly friend of hers, Galina Borisovna Koltypina, who was living in Kaluga and would we be interested in looking at it. It was a lengthy manuscript that spanned the years 1917-1997 from Koltypina’s early years in the Russian Far East, to her arrival and life in Moscow, her loves and losses, and her witness to the unraveling of the Soviet empire. Koltypina was director of the Music Division of the Lenin Library in Moscow for many years. She never married and thus titled her manuscript Моя жизнь: Дневник одинокой женщины (My Life: the Diary of a Single Woman). She retired in 1997.

This text is an excerpt from The Russia Reader – now available on

That night I took the manuscript home with me. I put it down only the next morning. I was stunned. I had seen part of the world Koltypina was describing, the part that dealt with how foreigners were to be treated during the Khrushchev years as the Soviet Union was beginning to open up to outside visitors. Foreign students and scholars who lived in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras will recognize the world that appears in this selection, one in which interaction between Soviets and the capitalist west was strictly regulated. Visiting Soviets in their homes was out-of-bounds (though people did it anyway). There were special hotels designated only for foreigners, special shops where only foreigners could shop. Travel abroad for Soviets was possible only as part of official delegations, and foreigners traveling to the Soviet Union were confined to certain cities. Some cities were closed for security reasons; others simply because living conditions were so deplorable that the government wanted them closed them off from foreign eyes.

With humor and an unflinching eye Koltypina takes us inside her life in the immediate post-Stalin period as the Soviet Union was simultaneously opening and closing the doors to the outside world. Hers is a fascinating inside look at how Soviets were instructed to behave in the presence of foreigners, what they were instructed to tell them, and what it was like getting a class ‘x’ hotel in a provincial city ready for the arrival of a delegation from abroad. For some her account will spark memories; for others it will be a fresh look from an unusual perspective at a time in Soviet history that was still bearing much of the burden of the Stalinist past.

This piece is published in The Russia Reader in English only. Below, however, an excerpt is presented with the original Russian in a side-by-side translation. This is the first time the original Russian has been published.

International Relations at the Lenin Library:   Международные отношения в Библиотеке имени Ленина:
From My Life: The Diary of a Single Woman 1917–1997 Выдержки из манускрипта “Моя жизнь: Дневник одинокой женщины”
Galina Koltypina  Галина Колтыпина
… My librarian’s existence became a bit livelier through contact with foreign guests, mostly librarians who were visiting our country. At that time contact with foreigners, formerly forbidden (under Stalin we had to sign a statement that under no circumstances would we engage in conversation with foreigners), was increased significantly and was legalized. Unbelievable rumors circulated that it would even become permissible to travel to other countries. Foreign guests were usually received at the Office of the Library Directorate and then guided around the library and shown the packed reading halls, which invariably caught foreigners by surprise, as did the official slogan: ‘‘The Soviet People Are the Most Well-Read People in the World.’’ … Мое библиотечное существование несколько оживилось общением с иностранными гостями – библиотекарями, посетившими нашу страну в это время. Контакты с иностранцами, запретные ранее (при Сталине мы даже давали записку о том, что не будем вступать в разговоры с иностранцами ни в коем случае), заметно увеличились и легализовались, ходили также слухи, казавшиеся нам невероятными о том, что будет разрешено ездить в другие страны. Иностранные гости часто прибывали к нам в Библиотеку, их обычно принимали в Дирекции, а потом водили по Библиотеке, показывая битком набитые читальные залы, что неизменно приводило иностранцев в удивление (“самый читающий народ в мире -это советский народ).”
In September 1956 a delegation of Swedish library workers headed by Uno Willers, the National Librarian of Sweden, arrived to visit our library. In addition to touring libraries in Moscow and Kiev, the Swedes wished to visit the Black Sea. The Directorate thought it over and proposed that they visit the city of Krasnodar, where a new library had recently opened, and then travel from there to the sea coast. My boss, Abrikosova, decided to dispatch me to Krasnodar so that I could oversee the necessary preparations. The following is an excerpt from a detailed account of this episode in my diary. В сентябре 1956г. в нашу библиотеку с ответным визитом прибыла делегация библиотечных работников во главе с директором Королевской библиотеки Швеции, господином Уно Виллерсом. Шведы, кроме посещения библиотек Москвы и Киева выразили желание увидеть Черное море. Дирекция, подумав, предложила им посетить Краснодар (поскольку там была недавно открыта новая библиотека), а оттуда съездить и на Черное море. И вот Абрикосова решила отправить меня в Краснодар для того, чтобы я провела там соответствующую подготовку. Далее я приведу достаточно подробную запись из дневника об этом эпизоде.
I went to Krasnodar on business with two main goals, chief among which was to prepare the local library for the visit by the Swedes, who would arrive in five days, on the 12th of September, and to organize their trip to the Black Sea. A secondary goal was to familiarize myself with the library’s bibliographic work. I had little experience with business trips, and therefore I worried about whether I would be able to secure a place to stay in a hotel. But my anxiety turned out to be unfounded, as Moscow had clearly notified the local authorities about my arrival. As soon as I disembarked from the train, a voice over the radio invited ‘‘Comrade Koltypina’’ to come to the information desk. I was met by the Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau of Culture and the Deputy Director of the Regional Library. They quickly collected me, put me in an automobile, and took me to a hotel, where a room had been reserved. It was—to my delight—a single. I wasn’t given the chance to change clothes or even grab a bite before they collected the director of the hotel, and we set off to see the head of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party. All of this commotion ensued because the Regional Committee had received a telegram from the Ministry of Culture of the USSR informing them that Swedes were coming to their city. In those days we were still not accustomed to the arrival of guests from capitalist countries, and Krasnodar had never before hosted such visitors. Therefore the matter was sent up to the appropriate heights. I laid out our requirements: first of all, the hotel had to be clean, especially the toilet (this made the party chief look menacingly at the hotel manager). Secondly, Moscow had allotted a maximum of eighty rubles to take care of the Swedes, per day, per person (at this the chief snorted disdainfully, saying that Moscow had given no orders to them about this matter, and that Krasnodar would host the guests as is customary). I remarked that it was not necessary to go overboard, since Swedes eat very little in the morning, only coffee and fruit, but they did not listen to me. I added that in addition to visiting the library, whose preparation was my task, they might also wish to visit the local museum. Я поехала в Краснодар в командировку фактически с двумя целями: главная – подготовить местную библиотеку к посещению ее шведами, которые прибудут сюда через 5 дней, то есть, очевидно 12 сентября, организовать поездку шведов на Черное море и побочная цель – познакомиться со справочно-библиографической работой этой библиотеки. В командировках я человек неопытный, а потому с беспокойством думала, удастся ли мне устроиться в гостинице. Но тревоги мои оказались напрасными, очевидно, Москва известила местные власти о моем приезде; как только я вышла из вагона, голос по радио пригласил товарища Колтыпину подойти к справочному бюро. Меня встретили зам. начальника управления культуры Край-исполкома и зам. директора Краевой библиотеки. Они быстро подхватили меня, усадили в автомашину и отвезли в гостиницу, где был забронирован номер – к моему удовольствию – одноместный. Не дав мне переодеться и поесть, они прихватили директора гостиницы, и мы отправились в Крайком к первому секретарю. Весь этот переполох возник потому, что Крайком получил телеграмму из Министерства культуры СССР о том, что их город посетят шведы, а в то время мы еще не привыкли к приездам гостей из капиталистических стран, а в Краснодаре их вообще еще не было. Поэтому вопрос был поднят на должную высоту. Я изложила наши требования: во-первых, в гостинице должно быть чисто, особенно в туалете (первый грозно посмотрел на директора гостиницы), во-вторых, на содержание и пропитание шведов Москва ассигнует не более 80 рублей в день на каждого (первый презрительно фыркнул, сказав, что в этом вопросе Москва им не указ, и уж Краснодар примет гостей как полагается). Я заметила, что особо размаха в угощении не надо: шведы мало едят, утром – только кофе и фрукты, – но меня слушать не стали. Далее я положила, что они посетят библиотеку (подготовить ее, это моя задача), возможно, захотят посетить местный музей.
What could be done about the queues outside the shops? People would start sitting on the sidewalk in front of them early in the morning, as the food supply in the city was very bad. One couldn’t allow the Swedes to see this, let alone to enter a shop. Besides, Moscow had given orders that they were allowed to take photographs of anything they wanted. The head remained anxiously silent on this point, saying simply: ‘‘We’ll think of something.’’ А как быть с очередями около магазинов? Люди сидят на тротуарах с раннего утра, с продуктами в городе очень плохо. Нельзя же допустить, чтобы шведы это увидели, тем более – зашли в магазин. Притом Москва дала указание о том, что им разрешено все снимать. Начальство озабоченно молчало: что-нибудь придумаем.
And what about the fact that the Swedes had expressed a desire to swim in the Black Sea? Well, that was easy enough to arrange. We would take them to Gelendzhik by car to a regional resort where they would take care of everything. On that note we all went our separate ways. А как быть насчет того, что шведы желают искупаться в Черном море? Ну, это легко устроить. Отправим их в Геленджик на машинах, там есть крайкомовский дом отдыха, где все подготовят. На том мы расстались.
I returned to the Hotel Krasnodar (the best in the city) and, along with the terrified hotel manager, started to look over the ‘‘deluxe’’ rooms on the second floor. Businessmen were sitting around in these deluxe rooms drinking vodka. The walls were quite filthy, spattered with champagne. The only luxury in the rooms consisted of a sink. The most frightful thing of all was the ‘‘toilet’’: a wooden seat laid directly on a filthy floor. I was horrified. The manager broke out in a sweat and sprung into action. First of all, he threw out all of the business travelers (where he sent them I do not know) and prohibited entry onto the second floor. All staff on hand started washing, scrubbing, and painting. They were especially zealous about the toilet. In the evening the exhausted director, drenched in sweat, invited me in for an inspection. The rooms were clean, extra beds had been removed, carpets had been laid, clean curtains had been hung, the sinks had been washed, and pictures had been hung over the champagne stains. I approved and said that vases filled with flowers and fruit should be placed in each room on the day of the Swedes’ arrival. Then we went to look at the toilet. The floor had been scrubbed and the walls had been painted. A lock (which they gave to me) had been hung on the bathroom door. In so far as this was the only toilet, I asked where the other business travelers would go, to which the hotel manager answered: ‘‘They can go in the courtyard.’’ The manager then ordered the entrance to the second floor to be locked up and installed a guard, who was to open the door only for me. Я вернулась в гостиницу “Краснодар” (лучшая в городе) и вместе с перепуганным директором стала осматривать номера “Люкс” на втором этаже. В “люксах” сидели командированные мужчины и пили водку. Стены были довольно грязноватые, с “брызгами шампанского”, люкс заключался в том, что в номере была умывальная раковина, прибитая к одной из стен. Но самым ужасным был “туалет” – деревянный стульчак на загаженном полу. Я пришла в ужас. Директор весь вспотел и начал действовать. Прежде всего он вышвырнул всех командированных (куда – не знаю), запер ход на второй этаж и весь наличный состав служащих начал мыть, скрести, красить и т.д. Особенно усердствовали в туалете. Вечером уставший и взмокший директор пригласил меня на осмотр. В номерах стало чисто, лишние кровати убрали, на пол постлали ковры, повесили чистые занавески, раковины отмыли, а на “брызги шампанского” повесили картины. Я одобрила и сказала, что в день приезда в каждом номере должны стоять вазы с цветами и фруктами. Затем мы пошли осматривать туалет. Пол был выскоблен, стены покрашены. На дверях туалета висел амбарный замок (ключ отдали мне). Поскольку этот туалет был единственным, то я спросила, куда же будут ходить командированные, на что директор ответил “нехай ходют во двор.” Входную дверь на 2-й этаж директор приказал держать запертой, поставить у дверей стражу и открывать только мне.
While the hotel was being cleaned and tidied, I went to the library to establish a plan for meeting the Swedes. I looked over the catalog and the international holdings and offered a range of advice. On the way back I stopped at the museum to verify that there was something worth seeing, and then returned to the hotel for lunch. Пока в гостинице шла генеральная чистка и уборка я посетила библиотеку, составила план встречи шведов, посмотрела каталоги и фонды иностранного отдела и дала ряд советов, на обратном пути зашла в музей, убедилась, что там есть что показать и вернулась в гостиницу пообедать.
It turned out that the Swedes’ plane was delayed and that they wouldn’t arrive until the following day. Finally, I was at the library when someone ran up to me with the news that the Swedes were expected any minute. I ran back to the hotel. The first thing I saw was a line of staff that stretched along the entire staircase. Some nicely groomed, well scrubbed women were standing there: one of them held flowers, another towels, and a third one, an iron (!). They were clearly all terrified, and the hotel manager rushed around giving them orders. Managing to contain my laughter, I went to my room feeling highly amused. The poor woman holding the iron, extended straight ahead, was particularly funny. Ну, а что же шведы? Оказалось, что самолет задержался, и они приехали только на следующий день. Я была в то время в библиотеке и когда за мной прибежали с известием, что шведов ждут с минуты на минуту, прибежала в гостиницу. Первое, что я увидела, это был строй обслуживающего персонала, вытянувшийся по всей лестнице. Там стояли: чистенькие женщины, одна из них держала цветы, другая – полотенца, третья – утюг (!). У всех были перепуганные лица, а перед ними метался директор, что-то им наказывая. Сдерживая смех, я ушла в свой номер, где немало повеселилась: особенно была потешна фигура с утюгом, вытянутым вперед.
At last they arrived. There were four men, plus two Russian escorts: Mr. Mirnyi, the translator (he worked for our Collections Division) and Ms. T. L. Postremova (Vainer), the Scientific Director. I went back to my room and continued laughing, especially when Mr. Willers poked his head in and said perplexedly that they did not need an iron, since their shirts were made out of wrinkle-free material. They removed the lock from the toilet, but the hotel manager left a guard at the entrance to the second floor, with strict instructions to stop anyone who might try to gain access. И наконец, прибыли. Их было четверо, мужчин, плюс двое наших сопровождающих: переводчик Мырный (из нашего отдела комплектования) и ученый секретарь Т.Л. Постремова (Вайнер). Я ушла в свой номер, продолжая смеяться, особенно когда директор просунул голову и озадаченно сообщил, что утюг им не нужно, так как у них рубашки из какого-то материала, который не мнется. С туалета замок сняли, но стражу у входа на второй этаж директор оставил, снабдив ее жесткими инструкциями на тот случай, если кто-нибудь будет рваться на 2-й этаж.
After the Swedes had freshened up, we set off for breakfast in the restaurant. It was completely empty, since the manager had given orders to throw everyone out. The table was overflowing with a great variety of delicacies. Behind each chair stood a waiter who incessantly changed the plates. I sat down next to the representative from the local government, Mr. Kachalovyi, a very cultured and kind person. Among the Swedes was again Mr. Willers, the National Librarian, who had auburn hair and blue eyes and was a man of high culture and great intellect. He gave a short speech with generalities about international friendship and about how books unite people. The others included a Mr. Von Feilitsen, whose aristocratic background was quite clear from his manner and appearance; and Mr. Kharnesk, the portly Director of the Uppsala University Library, who was polite but a bit reserved. Of course, such an abundance of food at breakfast surprised them. They ate very little. После того, как шведы привели себя в порядок, мы отправились завтракать в ресторан. Там было абсолютно пусто, так как директор распорядился “гнать всех в шею.” Стол был обильно уставлен самыми разными яствами. За каждым стулом стоял официант и беспрерывно менял посуду. Я ела рядом с представителем местно власти – Качаловым (очень культурный и милый человек). Шведы – это директор Королевской библиотеки Уно Виллерс, шатен с голубыми глазами, человек высокой культуры и интеллекта, произнес небольшую речь с общими фразами о дружбе и мире и книге, которая соединяет людей. Другие–аристократ Фон Фейлицен, (аристократизм его виден в манерах и внешнем облике), толстяк-директор Университетской библиотеки в г. Упсала–Харнеск, держались вежливо, но несколько холодновато. Конечно, их удивило такое обилие еды, поданной к завтраку; ели они очень немного.
After breakfast we proceeded to drive to the library. Although it would have been possible to go on foot, instructions had clearly been given to go by car. It was sprinkling lightly, and I was glad that the Swedes would stay inside the car, for I was very afraid that they would poke their noses into the shops. To my great surprise there were no queues outdoors. It seems that the wise men from the regional party committee had solved the problem quite simply: they closed all the shops for a ‘‘cleaning day.’’ После завтрака мы отправились на машинах в библиотеку, хотя можно было бы пройтись пешком, но, очевидно, было дано такое указание. Шел небольшой дождик, и я порадовалась тому, что шведы не выдут из машин: я очень боялась того, что они сунутся в магазины. К моему великому удивлению никаких очередей на улицах не было. Оказывается, мудрецы из Крайкома проблему решили просто – объявили во всех магазинах санитарный день.

Translation by Jane Zavisca, University of Arizona
Introduction by Adele Barker, University of Arizona


About the Author

Galina Koltypina

Galina Koltypina is the Former Director of the Music Division of the Lenin Library.

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

Program attended: All Programs

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov