Librarians as Extremists and Judges as Bibliographers

On July 25, 2002 a federal act № 11-FZ “On counteracting extremist activity” (Федеральный закон № 114-ФЗ «О противодействии экстремистской деятельности») entered into force in Russia. Art. 13 of this act prohibits the dissemination of extremist materials and their storage for the purposes of mass dissemination. There are no sanctions for storage and individual use.

Materials are classified as “extremist” by the district courts upon request from the prosecutor or in the course of the court hearings of administrative, criminal and civil cases, then the court decisions are sent to the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry adds the “extremist” publication to the “Federal list of extremist materials”. The list can be found at On January 21, 2013 the list included 1643 titles – books, brochures, issues, journal and newspaper articles, Internet-sites, video, banners, slogans, etc. Among the authors you can find well known and lesser known political and religious writers, journalists and anonymous bloggers.

Russian libraries became an “object of inquiry” of the prosecutor’s office soon after the first entries to the federal list. In 2007 the prosecutor’s office in the city of Kirov requested Kirov State Regional Science Library named after Herzen to remove from their collections books by A. Dobrovolsky, a Russian nationalist. The request came into contradiction with the legislation on libraries and librarianship, namely RF Law № 78-FZ “On Librarianship” ( Закон РФ «О библиотечном деле») and RF Law № 19-FZ “On deposit copy” (Закон РФ «Об обязательном экземпляре документов»), so the library was not in a position to comply with the request. In its turn, the district prosecutor sent its letter of notice to the library director with the statement, that the library contributes to the mass dissemination of extremist literature and that librarians, who failed to obey with the requirement to get rid of the books and who provided the books to patrons, must be subject to sanctions.

Since then, the activity of the prosecutors in targeting libraries and librarians for the dissemination of the extremist literature has increased. SOVA Center for Information and Analysis ( provided data, that from July 2008 to 2010 there were 30 cases of sanctions applied to the libraries, and in the first half of 2011 there were about 15 such cases. Even though law enforcement in most cases only issued warnings and did not impose penalties or other sanctions, several library directors were charged with committing administrative offenses in 2011. For instance, two library directors were found guilty in administrative offenses under art. 20.29 of the Administrative Code for dissemination of extremist materials and had to pay fines, because their library collections contained “Diaries” by Joseph Goebbels and they provided it to patrons upon request.

Among other more frequently encountered “prohibited” books in libraries are works of scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslim authors. These books were included in library catalogues long before the “extremist list” had appeared, and now the Russian libraries are faced with a difficult choice. On the one hand, anti-extremist legislation requires the libraries to get rid of these books and on the other, art. 12 of the law “On Librarianship” prescribes, that “no state or other censorship, restricting the right of library users to free access to library collections, is allowed”. The situation is even worse for the libraries, which serve as national depositaries and are obliged to collect all the books printed in their region. The law “On Librarianship” also prescribes that all libraries must provide any book from its collection when a patron asks for it. There are only two grounds for restricting the patrons’ access to collection: that the materials contain state secrets or that they are in too poor a condition to be lent out. The trick, to keep a book as part of the collection, but not include it in the library catalogue, is not a viable solution: section 4 art. 7 of the same law states that: “[P]ersons have a right to get full information about the composition of library collection through the system of catalogues and other forms of library information services”.

Another problem for librarians arises from the flaws in the bibliographical description of the prohibited titles in the federal list. The Ministry of Justice does not have the power to make corrections to the descriptions of the books – it automatically copies them from the judicial decisions. Incompetent descriptions, which constitute part of the list, can make it difficult to identify “extremist” books and distinguish them from “unprohibited” publications with similar titles. For instance, the book “Basics of Islamic Creed” is listed twice and it is unclear, whether the courts in two different regions found one and the same book or different books to be extremist. Among other entries which can be quoted as examples are: “69. Book “Word about unity” (decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 06.08.2007 and decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 19.10.2007)”, “70. Book “Establishment of the Allah laws” (decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 06.08.2007 and decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 19.10.2007)”, “71. Book “Programmes for the study of Sharia law” (decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 06.08.2007 and decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 19.10.2007)” or “72. Explanation of the Basics of Creed” decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 06.08.2007 and decision of the Buguruslan city court of Orenburg region of 19.10.2007)”.

The absurd situation, that libraries and librarians attempt to comply with the law, but cannot do so because of the gaps and contradictions in the legislation, does not contribute to better protection from “harmful” speech or real extremism. If libraries are suspected in mass dissemination of hate speech and are forced to censor the materials in their collections, they cannot fulfill their main role – to secure free access to and the free flow of information, and cannot serve the needs of their patrons – researchers, scholars, students and other users.

 Anita Soboleva