Of course, you don’t even know them by their names, but you recognize them by their faces.
This audience is pretty resilient. If we look at the mass information that is being presented, it is very lightweight, very anti-scientific and very anti-intellectual in general.
It so happened that fundamental science today is strongly divorced from publicity. Science has little presence on the Internet, except for special sites, few public lectures. In addition, scientists do not always have the skill of communicating with non-scientific people. When we see that a serious scientist goes out in public, then you should know that this is a great rarity. Hence, the need to listen to him immediately arises.
What other categories of listeners are there?
We still have a fairly large category of people, and in Russia it is just increasing. She is often attracted by pseudo-scientific or pseudo-mystical profanation, which is now actively supported. For example, topics like "Feng Shui in 2 lessons", "How to learn Chinese online", moreover, such lectures also have their own stable audience, but one day people still realize that they could not learn Feng Shui in 2 lessons, or lose weight thanks to qigong, the complexes of which they looked at on the net. That is, they want to ask someone if it works or not.
Here’s an example: quite recently, a young man who studied Chinese in China for six months decided to make the All-Russian Online Chinese Courses. I began to wonder where he had this in his head at all: without deep preparation, suggesting such profanity. And then I realized that he had never studied systematically at all, that is, his level of education is so low that he does not understand that in the methodology of science this has already been passed and discarded. And in the field of, for example, the study of the East, unfortunately, many people listen to what had already been worked out by the middle of the twentieth century. And therefore, when a relatively literate person with a broad outlook and modern approaches appears in public, he always has either his own followers or followers of the topic he offers. This is the audience that will follow his performances. The most important thing is that the literate, intellectual audience is expanding today, and the demand for lecture halls is quite high.
There is another category of listeners who come to isolate practical knowledge from the lecture. On topics related, for example, to the East, this is very clearly visible, because there are many companies and firms that work with Asian countries, a lot of people travel there, from businessmen to cosmetologists in search of new events. They need to understand what culture they are dealing with. They come, they are immediately noticeable, they always write down numbers, facts, in order to line everything up. I think this is the wrong way to professionally understand Asia, because it is impossible to learn how to work with the East in any field in 1-2 lectures. You should attend at least a systematic course, but usually these people are very busy. This is a special kind of audience, which cannot listen to something methodically and for a long time, and it comes so that essay about my hero is my parents in one lecture they can explain everything.
Now the number of these people is increasing, their number is 15-20 percent, but still, the category of permanent followers is growing noticeably. They are one of the most grateful, because you can already react to them, you know what you have already told them, what you have not yet talked about. Of course, you don’t even know them by name, but you recognize them by their faces. This is very pleasant, because they react to some kind of “forwarding” from your side towards the previous lectures. We meet, maybe once every six months – a year, but you keep in touch with them all the time.
Is the mood of the public immediately clear?
The audience is initially always incomprehensible. It so happens that the hall is always different. For example, when you read in an open-air cinema in Gorky Park, then there is a completely different energy, you understand that it is difficult to attract the attention of people on a summer day when they are sitting in the sun and something interesting and distracting is happening around – someone is drinking beer , and someone with a girl came and they are more interested in each other.
The audience at such public lecture halls is often initially very “tight”. This is even worse than bored students, because you know the students and you know what they know and what they don’t. Students understand you, and they understand you. They are motivated to at least pass the subject. And here the motivation is very vague in people: it is determined either by the topic or by the lecturer personally. For example, they read your book, saw it on TV and decided to look at you. But they also don’t really understand what to expect from live communication. Therefore, it is always very difficult to rock the audience and, if possible, it is better to make an interactive one, to build a lecture as a solution to some detective story. When there is a question, the audience wakes up. You need interactive, and you shouldn’t leave it at the end. This is a student story. You must immediately respond to the question so that the audience is included. This is a certain “principle of a rock concert”. Then people remember that they have been in the action of which they were a part, and they were no less important than the lecturer who stood in front of them. This is the rocking of the audience, which is always different.
Does the subject matter of the lectures depend on the space or vice versa? Are these related things?
There are chamber lectures. I always ask the organizers how much space is. There are gigantic themes, there are small themes – each has its own volume of space. If we are giving a lecture about cultural trends, yes, there must be a large audience. Culture is a vast space.
It always starts with audience size. After we understand the size of the audience, we suggest a topic. I almost always suggest a new topic, because I always react to the audience and to the unrepeatability of the topic.
Any public lecture should be arranged in advance. You cannot come, get the volume of slides that you showed to students at the university yesterday, and repeat the same thing in public. It won’t work. There is nothing worse than when the lecturer flips through the slides and says – “Oh, no, I’m missing this, we will not have time to do this”. Dynamics is lost. We need to prepare for this lecture. Not to learn new material, but to think over how to build the components of the lecture.
How do you stop people thinking of the library as a boring place?
To do this, we need to stop being a boring place. It sounds primitive, but it is exactly so. Why are we a boring place? Libraries are always in contradiction: on the one hand, we are custodians of cultural heritage: we have a collection of rare books, we have a book by Dante Alighieri, published in 1502 in Venice – all this causes a great upsurge, we must preserve it.
On the other hand, we must provide access to heritage. Most often, these functions – custody and granting access – come into conflict with each other. A good librarian hates users because they come in and grab books and touch them with their fingers. And that’s okay, because the function of the custodians is very important, we are obliged to preserve these books.
We must move away from the idea that a library is just a book depository. We live in an era of terrible information abundance. We have time to search. We are used to the fact that the Yandex or Google search line will direct you where you need to.
We are trying to build a different message for the library. We are trying to rethink the role of the library. In our opinion, “Inostranka” connects people with knowledge, culture and opportunities of the whole world. Our business is to create opportunities for people, to be successful in a fairly open world now. To do this, you need to know languages and have professional skills in a particular environment. The library cannot be completely universal, we must find our audience, and for this we must understand the trends.
It seems to me that the future always lies at the intersection of respect for one’s history and an attentive attitude to what happens next.
In order for the library to stop being a boring place, it must offer something that corresponds to your “mission critical”, that is, something that is very important to you as the basis of your life. We need to propose solutions and approaches for the needs of young, energetic, successful people. If not, the library will remain a boring place.
What is the thematic niche of “Inostranka”?
One of the foundations of our foundation is linguistics. We have always been a library where people come to study foreign languages, the culture of other countries, and regional studies. But if we look at the dynamics of the defense of dissertations on topics that relate to linguistics and regional studies, we will see that the number of these dissertations is decreasing. I think there are absolutely objective factors.
I graduated from college in 1991 and my diploma was in English. And if then knowledge of English was a unique competitive advantage, now knowledge of one or two languages is a basic thing, which is why the sacred meaning of knowledge of foreign languages has been lost, they have become a common tool. And we will have to look for scientific topics, interdisciplinary areas that are now on the rise, growing and will continue to develop.