Flimsy Case Against Moscow Librarian Continues
By John Charlton
Russian authorities have stepped up the pressure on Natalya Sharina, director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow, who has been under house arrest since October 2015 for allegedly disseminating extremist books. She was recently accused of peculation (embezzlement), which allows the authorities to keep her in custody for longer than was the case with the original accusation. “[S]he is accused [of] wasting money from the library’s budget, aimed for the library’s lawyers salaries, to pay to her attorney,” says Asya Suvorova, spokeswoman for Sharina’s lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, and a fellow member of Team 29, a pressure group that campaigns for the right of Russian citizens to access official information.
The latest accusation is “obviously not true,” says Suvorova. “[T]he library’s lawyers have had their salaries in full … and Natalya Sharina [has paid] her own money to her attorney.” She adds that the latest allegations by the Investigative Committee of Russia, a powerful state body that is investigating Sharina’s activities, enables it to hold her in custody for a longer period.
Suvorova says that the extremist books allegations are classed as a crime of average gravity, whereas the peculation charge is a serious one. “The [maximum] term of the custody for those who committed the crime of average gravity before the trial is 6 months. And for those who committed a serious crime—a year and a half. [The Investigative Committee of Russia] needs more time to keep Sharina under [house] arrest.”
According to Suvorova, Sharina was charged with similar alleged crimes related to disseminating extremist books in 2011. “In 2013 all the charges were dismissed,” she says. An article in the English- language publication The MoscowTimes says that the books in question related to the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s, which may have been deemed to be anti-Russian. Ironically, the Investigative Committee of Russia was going to move into the premises of the Dante Alighieri Library in Moscow, but that was canceled by authorities.
The Right to Display Art
Sweden’s Supreme Court has ruled against Wikimedia Sweden in a case brought by Bildupphovsrätt, the country’s visual artists’ association, which asserted that creators of outdoor art should give their permission before images of their works are posted online. Bildupphovsrätt says the ruling states “that an open database of artworks has a commercial value and that this value should be reserved for the artists behind the works. It also states that, under the [Swedish Copyright] Act … the right to exploit works using new technology ... remains with the artists.”
Erik Forslund, Bildupphovsrätt’s head of negotiation, says the case will now go before the district court that had originally referred the matter to the Supreme Court for a ruling. At the time of this writing, he says that Bildupphovsrätt was not in negotiation with Wikimedia over any agreement relating to the Supreme Court ruling. “[T]he trial must be finalized before we can say anything about the future,” says Forslund.
“We have license agreements with numerous municipalities and regional governments—owners of large volumes of public art—and they pay a few thousand [Swedish Krona] annually for the right to display their artworks in open databases,” he says. “Wikimedia is well aware of these modest figures—as well as they were aware of the legal risk of publishing the artworks without permission—but [they] still chose to dispute.” Wikimedia Sweden’s operations manager, Anna Troberg, said the ruling was “an anachronistic and restrictive interpretation of copyright laws.”
National Library of Israel Moves
On a non-controversial note, the National Library of Israel (NLI) plans to move to new purpose-built premises in 2020. The building will comprise six above-ground floors and four below, giving it a total space of 45,000 square meters (about 484,376 square feet). Zachary Rothbart, who is responsible for foreign relations and development at NLI, says, “We have 5 million items stored in our current facility and one off-site storage location. The new building will hold all of our items. This will include 300,000 items on open shelves. Closed storage areas will have room to accommodate the rest of the Library’s holdings and 50 years of anticipated collection expansion.”
The new building will also enable NLI to offer more services. For example, it will include a 450-seat auditorium for cultural events, concerts, and conferences, etc., as well as child and youth zones. The cost of constructing and equipping the new facility will be about $200 million. “In general, the new building will enable NLI to provide state-of-the-art services to researchers, readers, visitors and online users, making accessible the millions of intellectual and cultural assets it has collected for more than 120 years,” Rothbart says.
Last year, NLI launched its Digital Access Division to provide online access to its collections, and, says Rothbart, its activities will be expanded and “enriched.” NLI is collaborating with the British Library (BL) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in the digitization of Hebrew manuscripts. The BL says most of the 3,000 manuscripts it holds will be fully digitized by 2019. Some 1,400 Hebrew manuscripts will be digitized as a result of BnF’s project with NLI.
South African Library Upgrades and European Art
Meanwhile, in the South African province of Gauteng (its main city is Johannesburg), libraries are about to undergo a technological transformation, according to Koekie Meyer, director of libraries and archives for the province. Three libraries are piloting a modernization initiative that will then be rolled out to 44 more libraries over the next 3 years.
The libraries, according to Meyer, are being equipped with desktop computers, laptops, e-readers, tablets, gaming rooms, and ebook access, as well as computers and software for the visually impaired. She says, “The aim of the project is to provide free internet services and new technologies in libraries in order to break down the barriers previously set by apartheid and to provide equal opportunities for all communities … eliminating the barriers between the haves and the have nots. The focus [is] therefore on previously disadvantaged communities.” Much of the funding for this and other library-based projects in South Africa has been provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which, according to Meyer, has donated $10 million to the initiative.
Finally, Europeana, Europe’s online database of European history and culture, is trying to get European Union (EU) states “excited” about the continent’s art heritage. It recently launched Europeana 280, a campaign that invites the 28 EU member states to nominate 10 pieces of art that their galleries display or hold. The main criterion is that the pieces have contributed to a major art movement. Non-EU member Norway has also been invited to join in the fun. If Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream isn’t one of its 10 nominated works, I’ll eat my hat.