Lithuanian version


Levas Vladimirovas


Six Years in the UN Library

Levas Vladimirovas is extraordinary personality. He managed to restore the stock of old publications at Vilnius University Library, established the Department of Library Science at the university, developed the Lithuanian school of bibliography and for six years headed the United Nation library and computerised it. Bibliographers call him a book hunter, while the professor refers to himself as a bibliophile.


Levas Vladimirovas comes from mixed family: his father was a Russian Ortodox whose relatives have lived in Lithuania for 200 years, while his mother was from Samogitia, the western part of Lithuania.
Several cultures have merged in the family: his mother was from the Daujotai family, so her father, like most of the country's nobility, adhered to Polish traditions and spoke Polish at home. She studied in Bern, came to know the Lithuanian student community and educated people there, and spoke out for Lithuanian culture.
His parental grandfather, a pacifist, was a follower of Count Tolstoy's ideas. He had a large library, of which, unfortunately, only two volumes of A History of Rome have survived. The rest were burnt by the German during the First World War. His maternal grandfather was a follower of Adam Mickiewics, the great poet of the Lithuanian and Polish nations.
"In 1915, when the Germans began their attacks, like most mixed families, especially intellectuals, we withdrew to Ukraine," explains the professor. "Three hundred thousand Lithuanian inhabitants fled the country then. We returned to Siauliai in 1921. Both grandfathers had already died. I inherited my passion for book from them - they were both bibliophiles".Vladimirovas
The future professor went to primary school in Siauliai. Then, wishing to give their son a more thorough education and hoping to get him to learn languages, his parents sent him to study at Herder's Gymnasium in Silute. (The 18th century German writer J.G.Herder was the first to translate Lithuanian folk songs into a foreign language. This way they became more widely known.)
Having left the gymnasium, Vladimirovas enrolled in Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas to study English and German. However, he got in which difficulty since his certificate did not contain a mark for religion. The gymnasium he had left was fairly free-thinking: children would either study religion or not, the decision rested with their parents.
"My parents were indifferent to religion," says the professor. "We used to go to church only twice a year: at Christmas my Orthodox father would take me to a Catholic church, while my Catholic mother and I would go to an Ortodox church at Easter."
Levas Vladimirovas wanted to become a teacher. "However, with a Russia surname I could hardly expect to get such a job at that time. Therefore, I entered the Faculty of Economics and got a job with an insurance company where I worked in the sphere of reinsurance and foreign insurance.
"This is how a student of arts became an economist. After the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940, I was appointed deputy head of the Republic Insurance Administration and later transferred to the Finance and Trade Department of the Planning Committee. During the war I served in the 16th Lithuanian Division, was a company commander and subsequently deputy chief of staff and chief of the spoils unit of the division headquarters because I knew German".


However, a functionary's career in Soviet Lithuania was not to Vladimirovas' liking. One day the rector of Vilnius University invited him for a visit and said:" I know that you're a very learned man - both a specialist in humanities and an economist. We have 'an old maid' at the university. Maybe you could help". "I was also offered a political career," says the professor, "but I turned it down and became a librarian."
Levas Vladimirovas found the university library very neglected. "A Mont Blanc of books was looming in the White Hall of the observatory, and the roof leaked. They were not rubbish but valuable books. I found the first Lithuanian newspaper there.
"The university library with its long history was one of the richest and most interesting libraries in the Baltic States. I realised that it had to be handled in a different manner to other libraries. First, it was necessary to write its history so that people would know more about it, how valuable it is. The cataloguing was not the sole important thing in it, even though, certainly, that also had to be done because everything was mixed up, and it was very difficult to find the book you wanted."


Professor Vladimirovas' greatest concern, however, was to restore to the university library its history - the old publications which after the shutdown of the university by the Russians in 1832 were removed to the library of the St Petersburg, Kiev and Kharkov. Even prior to the Second World War there had been attempts to return these book to Lithuania, but Vilnius was occupied by the Poles, and the Russians refused it discuss this issue with the Lithuanians.
Lithuanian historian Juozas Jurginis once said that Vladimirovas reminds him of Renaissance figures, whose ideas and ambition initially looked like adventures and later their works were viewed as discoveries. In the beginning, Vladimirovas' desire to reunite the oldest and most valuable books of the university library seemed adventurous and impossible.
"First of all, I had to establish, according to the archives, where those books were," recalls the professor." I wasn't alone. I had rallied an excellent team. We looked both in the Vilnius and Moscow archives. We were very reluctantly admitted to depositories, but it was absolutely necessary to get in there."
Having got into the storage of old publications at Lvov University, he pointed with his finger to where there books that had belonged to Sigismund Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, brought there from Vilnius, were kept.
"The desire to return the old books to Lithuania was not shared by Lithuanian government of that time, it was refereed to as nationalism. However, my Russian name helped me in this situation. I returned about 15,000 books belonging to Vilnius University published in the 16th-18th centuries. I had to visit several top Russian officials and managed to obtain the following resolution from the Soviet minister of culture without the consent of the Lithuanian government: 'Return to Vilnius University the books and valuables from museums unless they are important to Russia'. This was a great victory.
"From the then Lenin Library in Moscow we regained a collection of the rarest books, with the sole copy of Mikalojus Dauksa's Catechisms among them; also The Apostle (1525) from Francisco Skorina, the first publisher in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and others. Collecting documents and confirming the ownership of these books by Vilnius University also required diplomatic skills."
The recovery of books from the library of the Leningrad Academy of Science was the most difficult.



It was only once that Levas Vladimirovas got support from the First Communist Party Secretary, Antanas Snieckus. This was when hunting down Mazvydas' Catechisms, the first Lithuanian book, printed in 1547. The fact that this book was in Odessa was reported to the professor by a colleague.
"I sent there my female assistant who established the fact that the book was really there. Then we raised the question of Catechisms with the authorities.
"Snieckus called his old friend, the First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party Central Committee, who he used to hunt with. We traded Catechisms for a big 16th century atlas, of which we had two copies, and the Third Lithuanian Statute, of which there were three copies".
At present only two copies of the book are known: the other one is in Torun, Poland. This is how the treasures of the University library were collected. The library was founded by the Jesuit College in 1570, and Sigismund August and other Lithuanian noblemen donated their collection to it. The history of Vilnius University Library was broken off in the 19th century, when in 1865 it was replaced by the Vilnius city public library which had no stock yet. "The stock is a library's blood", claims Levas Vladimirovas with pride. "Only after the restoration of that stock did it made sense to maintain that the library had been continuous since 1570."
From the „Lithuania in the world”. 1997, No3.
by Nika Aukstaityte

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Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
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