Anyone who follows digital libraries knows about Project Gutenberg, with 17,000 free public domain e-books available. Far less known outside the Russian-speaking world is Maksim Moshkow’s Library (also known as lib.ru), which contains approximately 40,000 e-books, both public domain and copyrighted.
Developing this monumental library has been the “hobby” of 39-year-old Muscovite Maksim Eugenievich Moshkow since 1994. He was kind enough to consent to an interview about his library and e-books in Russia, and his answers will be the topic of a series of posts over the next week or so.
Today: How the project began
(Future topics will include how books are submitted, what he does– and thinks– about copyright, file format issues, how and by whom e-books are read in Russia, and his vision for the library.)
How and when did you come up with the idea for a digital library?
In 1990 I started to gather a collection of e-books on my work computer– I swapped them, and copied them from friends. In 1994, I got an Internet connection at work, and I moved my collection to the institute’s webserver for my homepage. When my homepage was up, it had pages for “My hobbies”, “My work”, and “My Library”. Then, the library only took up 10 megabytes. Russian speakers visited the library, I added to it, and then there were a lot of visitors and they started to send me e-book files, and I put them up. So, in 11 years, the library grew, gained popularity, and expanded.
Did you do the first e-books yourself? What were they?
At first I did it myself, but pretty soon readers and authors started to send them to me, and I barely had time to put them up. The first were documentation and textbooks for Unix, novels by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, song lyrics by Aquarium, the Beatles, Jesus Christ Superstar, and others.
How did you get the money to start the project?
I didn’t get any. I’ve always done it myself. The library is my hobby.
On the site it says that the library has the support of the Federal Agency of Printing and Mass Communication. What sort of support did they provide, and how did you get it?
In the 10th year of the library  the Federal Agency of Printing and Mass Communication decided to offer me help and set aside a $35,000 grant for the development of the library. In September 2005, I received that money, and now I’m spending it on modernizing the technical equipment for the site. I’m upgrading the servers, and getting OCR done on electronic texts I’d like to have in the library.
Stay tuned to TeleRead for more about Maksim Moshkow and lib.ru.
(Questions and answers were in Russian, and have been translated by me. Any misunderstandings are my responsibility.)
Quinn Anya Carey is a BA/MA student in Slavic Linguistics at the University of Chicago.