A hush had fallen upon the great hall. The walls seemed to whisper and stretch in anticipation. Before the gleaming desk of power stood a tall young fellow, with the look of an outlander from a far-flung province across the sea. His expectant eyes rested on the one called Bairma, sublime daughter of the Khan of Buryatia and master librarian of the golden card of opportunity which unlocks the wonders held within these walls; The National Library of the Republic of Buryatia. Maiden Bairma shimmered radiantly exercising the powers of her office. With a graceful smile of blessing she extended the golden card toward me. I gulped a quick breath, and stepped boldly forward to grasp my prize. As I clasped the card it’s wonder flashed through my mind. The horizon rushed away from me in all directions as the world opened up in a whole new language to reveal her wonders. Images and sounds tumbled through my cognizance; rumbling horse herds, vast steppe expanses, steely eyed nomadic warriors and deft musicians plucking the strings of horse headed harps. The East stepped toward me, genially nodding her lovely head. Gracefully, she draped a scarf of blue silk around my neck and offered a bowl of mares milk in traditional welcome. Accepting it, I tipped the bowl back, tasting the richness of the steppe and forest tribes of Siberia. Turning, she beckoned me up the stairs into main reading hall of the library. I climbed the stairs in wonder. Who knew empress East, direction of intrigue and mystery, moonlighted as a librarian in Siberia?
There is one big difference between libraries in Russia and those stateside. If you dream of air musty with the scent of wizened paper, of losing yourself while browsing shelf after storied shelf of books, disappointment will be your constant companion at a Russian library. Here you have to fill out request forms and submit them to librarians who retrieve the desired tomes for you. You also carry a form with you where ever you go, and each librarian you interact with stamps and initials your form, which you then turn in at the end of your visit. It’s a paper trail, or documentation of everywhere you have traveled in the book palace, fitting I suppose.
Once you get used to the system, you can page through a pile of books to your hearts content, rustling paper and hushed conversations the only sounds to grace your ears in the National Library of Buryatia. And that, is the way a library should be.
* And why the asterisk you ask? The divinity of Siberian librarians is of course up for argument.