Historia Universitatis Iassiensis 11, 81–104

Ina Chirilă | The Library of “The Museum of the City of Iași” Society and the Prehistory of the “Gh. Asachi” County Library

Abstract. Like any other cultural institution, the “Gh. Asachi” county library of Iași sought to identify its origins by finding a benchmark in previous attempts to found the county public libraries. Thus, gradually, the year 1920 came to be recognized as the inaugural moment in the library’s institutional history. It was then that as a result of a private initiative the bases of “The Museum of the City of Iași” Society were laid, a cultural, historical and archaeological society whose founders designed, with financial help from the Iași City Hall, a City Museum and a library. The present study aims, on the one hand, at reviewing the way in which the historiography of the “Gh. Asachi” Library of Iași addressed the theme of its “prehistory”. The endeavour was motivated, first and foremost, by the fact that, almost without exception, this literature is connected to a certain “celebratory cyclicity” specific to each generation of librarians. Attuned to the logic of festivity, the activities perpetuated a series of confusions and limitations per¬taining to institutional chronology. The author’s lack of historical training is what most likely led to a one-sided point of view whose main objective was configuring the institution’s evolutionary image, despite the fact that an estab¬lishment’s past is marked by a series of breaks and continuities. Secondly, the present paper was also spurred by the suspicion that the foundational moment indicated is, in fact, a historiographic construct generated by the attitude of a generation that had embarked on a quest for models in the ranks of the inter-war elites, holding more symbolic capital that the communist-era elites. This is the only explanation that accounts for the exclusion of the founding moments of the “Ion Creangă” Popular Library (1937) or the Regional Library (1951), which, paradoxically, offer much more elements of continuity than the Municipal Museum Library (1920), often portrayed as a failed attempt in the context of inter-war libraries. Lacking other solid criteria that would support continuity, the authors gave precedence to the public character and municipal subordination of these estab¬lishments that the official history places in the descendance of today’s library. The study proposes a documented analysis of the way in which the concept of public library is perceived in the founders’ speeches and in the financing, or¬ganizational and patrimony endowment projects of the Iași University Library, the Municipal Museum Library, the “Ion Creangă” Popular Library and, to a lesser extent, the Regional Library. The present investigation discusses the epis¬temic relevance of these gestures from the perspective of the history of public libraries and explains the mechanisms and common or divisive elements between them and the “Gh. Asachi” County Library, thus exceeding the confines of a simple interrogation on chronology and founders or uninterrupted evolutions. From this perspective, the present text can be considered a contribution to the historiography of Iași public libraries, their place in the city’s intellectual history. In conclusion, with the exception of libraries founded during the com-munist era, none of the municipal public libraries met the interest and stringent necessities of the reading public. Burdened by their particular nature, they were always lacking in stable financial support, comfortable venues and ambiance, specialised and fairly remunerated staff, an audience eager to explore its holdings. The “The Museum of the City of Iași” Society and, later on, the “Ion Creangă” Popular Library encountered great difficulty in fulfilling their mission, the public-oriented nature of these establishment being limited to the discursive. In a context where the aspects which ensure continuity (people, practices, structure or mobile and immobile patrimony etc.) do not overlap the de facto or juridical organization, it seems fair that foundational acts in general and specifically in the case of “The Museum of the City of Iași” Society (1920), the “Ion Creangă” Popular Library (1937), the Regional Library of Iași (1950) and implicitly the „Gh. Asachi” County Library (1969) each be perceived as sepa¬rate beginnings and not resettlements of older initiatives.