But many of the libraries that the now independent states of Central Asia inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union have -- over the past 12 years -- fallen victim to neglect, theft, and inadequate funding.
In a recent interview with RFE/RL in Tashkent, Uzbek political scientist Rustam Djumayev says there has been a decline in the professional qualifications of library staff over the past decade, especially in the provinces. He said this may be one of the reasons why rare books are being stolen and offered for sale.
In some cases, desperate thieves are motivated by a desire to raise money to feed their families. But other thefts are part of a more sophisticated criminal operation to steal rare books and offer them for sale to wealthy collectors.
Itar-Tass reported earlier this month that Kyrgyz and Russian intelligence officials cooperated to arrest a criminal group that had stolen some 40 rare volumes from libraries in Kyrgyzstan and taken them to Moscow for resale. Some of the volumes bore the autograph of Russian Czar Nicholas II and were worth an estimated $1,000 each.
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