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February 9 is the birthday of the library-reading room named after I.S. Turgenev, this year she turns 137 years old. We recall the past of one of the most visited metropolitan libraries and tell how it lives today.

Turgenevka in the 19th century became the first public free library in Moscow – before that, access to printed publications in reading rooms could only be obtained for a fee. The library very quickly acquired a large number of regular visitors, regularly replenished its fund and did not stop working even in wartime. Read more about the history of the reading room in

How did the library come about?

For the first time, the library-reading room named after I.S. Turgenev opened on February 9, 1885. She owes her appearance to Varvara Morozova, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, the wife of the co-owner of the Tver manufactory, Abram Morozov. It was she who in 1884 decided to create a city reading room in memory of the writer Ivan Turgenev.

The city authorities supported Varvara Alekseevna, especially since the philanthropist herself made a big contribution to her brainchild – a fabulous 10 thousand rubles at that time. Of these, one half went to purchase books, the other half went to a fund with interest from which the institution could buy books and periodicals. But that’s not all: Varvara Alekseevna fully maintained the library in the first five years of its existence, after which the reading room was taken over by the city.

The library was located on Myasnitsky Gate Square (it was soon renamed Turgenevskaya) – in its own building, erected according to the design of the hereditary architect Dmitry Chichagov, whose father was involved in the construction of the Grand Kremlin Palace. Prior to this, buildings were not built specifically for libraries. Varvara Morozova took all the expenses on herself.

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First free

The library became the first free city reading room, before there were only private paid libraries in Moscow.

Commercial reading rooms appeared in the city in the second half of the 18th century. The first opened in 1783 on Petrovka. The creator of the second is Semyon Selivanovsky, one of the largest printers and book publishers in Moscow. Libraries were often organized at printing houses and bookstores. One of the most popular belonged to the bookseller Anatoly Cherenin. Over time, he opened five branches, including in St. Petersburg. If commercial libraries could be used by everyone for a fee, then only students and teachers had access to reading rooms operating, for example, at educational institutions.

So the Turgenev Library became a pioneer. Following it, a year later, a second one appeared – a reading room named after A.N. Ostrovsky, also free.

The popularity of Turgenevka grew. Already until 1900, about 270 people visited it daily, in 1909 – more than 400. High school students, clergymen, clerks, ordinary workers went here – everyone could find a book to their liking. There were legal publications, philosophical works, books on history, law, geography, agriculture, medicine, fiction, as well as newspapers and magazines. On average, about 110,000 books were given out per year.

From revolution to war

After the revolution of 1917, the library was temporarily closed and resumed work in 1920. In 1922, the poet and prose writer Boris Pasternak spoke here, initiating Turgenev’s Tuesdays. These were literary and musical evenings, which were attended by literary and theatrical stars of the capital. In addition, the library cooperated with the I.S. Turgenev in Orel, specialists were engaged in research work.

During the Great Patriotic War, the doors of the reading room were still open to visitors. At the very beginning, 200-300 people came a day, gradually this number decreased. By the end of the summer of 1941, the number of visits per day did not exceed 100. Librarians served guests in a cold, unheated room.

Turgenevka organized mobile libraries in hostels and bomb shelters. Employees supplied books to medical institutions – one of them was the hospital at the Sklifosovsky Institute. Readings aloud and literary conversations were also arranged there, books were also sent to the front to the soldiers.

The librarians did their best to take care of their beloved building. One day, during a raid on Moscow, several incendiary bombs fell near the reading room. To prevent a fire, brave employees covered them with sand.

From old house to new

After the Great Patriotic War, Turgenevka became one of the leading city libraries. It was during these years that Turgenev Tuesdays turned into a tradition, a hallmark of the library. In the 1950s, the Turgenev Commission appeared, which studied the life and work of the writer.

In the late 1960s, the reconstruction of Turgenevskaya Square began due to the construction of Novokirovsky Prospekt (now it is Akademik Sakharov Prospekt). In October 1972, the library building, recently renovated, was decided to be demolished. The public opposed, but could not do anything about it. By that time, the book fund had already amounted to 95 thousand volumes that needed to be placed somewhere. As a result, the publications were temporarily distributed to several addresses.

In 1974, Cecilia Krasne became the director of the reading room, whom the staff called the soul of the library. Together they ensured that instead of the demolished building, Turgenevka received another one. The struggle for a new home took many years. In 1990, the Moscow City Council issued a warrant to the library for two buildings in Bobrov Lane, where the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions was located at that time.

The liberation of the buildings also took a long time. After that, they were reconstructed at the expense of the city budget. The ancient architectural elements of the manor complex harmoniously fit into the modern interiors of the halls and halls. The two-height reading room, two walls of which are formed by facades of the 17th and 18th centuries, became a real decoration. At this crucial moment, the library was headed by Tatyana Korobkina: she not only revived it, but also turned it into a modern multifunctional center.

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How the library lives today

In the library-reading room named after I.S. Turgenev, you can not only take a book or sit comfortably in the reading room (book fund – 122,500 printed editions), but also visit an exhibition, concert, lecture, creative meeting or club of interests. And the media library, which everyone can use, gives access to the National Electronic Library, the Presidential Library named after B.N. Yeltsin, scientific electronic libraries and other electronic resources. Since 1995, Turgenevka has been studying the history of Moscow libraries; since 2003, it has been holding annual readings on the history of libraries in Moscow and the Moscow region.

The unique Turgenian fund contains books that were bought by Varvara Morozova, as well as some of the first and lifetime editions of Ivan Turgenev’s works. Many of these books are considered bibliographical rarities. In addition, the library remains the largest information, scientific and cultural center for the study, preservation and promotion of the writer’s heritage. Its employees organize international scientific conferences “Turgenev’s Readings” and excursions to Turgenev’s places in Moscow. In addition, they are engaged in the bibliographic resource “Turgenev in the 21st century”, where you can find documents about the writer not only in Russian, but also in European, Chinese and Japanese. Now there are more than two thousand entries.

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In the warm season, the library has a summer reading room, where festivals, concerts, film screenings, and fashion shows are held. Literary and music festivals, jazz evenings, poetry readings, interactive performances are organized in the cafe. Famous contemporary writers – Yevgeny Vodolazkin, Guzel Yakhina and others – perform in the reading room.

Turgenevka also cooperates with other cultural institutions in Moscow, Russia and abroad. Together they hold concerts, exhibitions, creative and literary meetings, lectures, master classes. In December last year, the exhibition “Russia – Turgenev – Europe. German View”, organized jointly with the Marina Tsvetaeva Center for Russian Culture at the University of Freiburg (Germany). Guests can learn about the contribution that Turgenev made to the development of cultural ties between Russia and Europe.

Last year, more than 1200 cultural events were held here. Among the plans for the current one is the A.N. Scriabin “Inspired by space”. It will be dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin, the founder of synesthesia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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