I approached this stunning building (Российская национальная библиотека) looking forward to looking through Soviet scientific literature in order to see what, if anything, had been written about the Hum in the Russian language. The Worldwide Hum is obscure enough, without the added barrier of a (difficult) foreign language spoken well by few people in the West. Therefore I thought there could be a decent chance that the source of the Hum was solved, or at least investigated, during the Cold War, and is now sitting out in plain view, but unknown to us. My Russian is good enough so as to know what to look for, and then if need be, I could follow up by referring to technical dictionaries, Russian Langage study partners with scientific credentials, and so on.
When I walked through the doors, I was met with full-on airport-style security (as is very common everywhere in Russia in places of cultural or historical significance or where large numbers of people gather). As I approached the desk it occurred to me that I needed to choose my words carefully. In my most polite Russian, I said, “Good day; I am a tourist, and I very much like Russian Language, culture, and history (which is all true), and I may I please visit your library?” The most senior of the security guards looked at me with mild incredulity and marched me over to a separate desk where two female officials were standing. I repeated my request, and one of them rejected my notion out of hand, but then seemed to reconsider my request and then looked at me and said firmly, “Show me your passport”.
In Russia, you must always carry your passport with you, or if you are a tourist, a photocopy of it. A photocopy is even good enough for the Police (who, by the way, do not kid around). I explained that I keep my passport secured in my apartment, but I am happy to provide a photocopy to her. She brushed away that idea and I was dismissed from the library.
My readers know that when it comes to researching the Hum, we put aside personal differences and politics and stick to the science. But I trust my readers will forgive this brief comment about what I think is a North American treasure: open libraries and a free press. As I stood outside the library to take the picture you see above, I thought to myself, “This is a library“. I just wanted to go inside and learn.
I’ll keep trying, however. Just before leaving for Russia, I was interviewed by a Russian documentary crew (in English) about the Hum Map and Database, and perhaps by the time next summer comes around, I will have navigated the bureaucracy in advance so that I get access to the information we need.
It’s great to be back.