For Albert Graham and Grant Harris, going to work is a lot like stepping onstage at a quiz show. As librarians in the Library of Congress European Reading Room, Harris and Graham are bombarded daily with questions from scholars, government agencies, diplomats, reporters and the public.

"We're sort of combat information center," said Graham, head of the European Reading Room for five years. "We get calls, walk-ins, letters. We are supposed to know everything about East and West Europe."

The library's European Division and reading room grew out of the Slavic and East European Division 10 years ago, when it was expanded to include France, Italy, West Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Ireland are handled by other divisions in the library.

The European Division's reading room provides access to more than 4 million related volumes in the library's collection. Despite the expansion, the majority of questions fielded by Graham and Harris still focus on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Graham says the questions range from the ridiculous -- who are the White Nights, which is the period during the summer equinox in Leningrad when it stays light all night -- to the more complex -- how does the Politburo work. And during major international events, such as the recent Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Washington or the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986, the number of questions increases.

"Every big event brings lots of questions," said David Kraus, acting chief of the library's European Division, of which the European Reading Room is a part. "Most of the questions are shallow in the sense that people just want background -- who someone is or how to pronounce something."

"It's such a range," said Harris. "During the summit {last month}, the White House called to borrow our Russian typewriter. And National Enquirer calls periodically."

What do inquiring minds want to know? The latest in parapsychology behind the Iron Curtain, said Graham.

To answer these questions, Harris and Graham draw upon a variety of reference materials that include nearly 400 daily, weekly and monthly newspapers.

To find out about someone in the Polish government, they might consult a 1984 edition of "Kto Jest Kim w Polsce" (Who's Who in Poland). Or to learn about past figures in the Soviet Union, they might turn to "Who Was Who in the Soviet Union," which is published by Scarecrow Press in New Jersey. For a quote from Lenin, they might go to the 55-volume set of the revolutionary's works or to a guide the library staff has put together in response to past inquiries.

Rarely are the two multilingual librarians stumped. When they do run across a particularly complicated question, they look to one of the seven area specialists attached to the library's European Division for assistance.

"There are some real stumpers that come along," said Harold Leich, the division's Russian area specialist. "We got a question two months ago from somebody who wanted to know with exact citations the number of times and in what context Lenin had used the word glasnost."

To find the information, the Soviet specialist would have had to search for the word glasnost through all 55 volumes of Lenin's work (these volumes are not yet on line in the library's computer system). Though he could not provide the information, Leich did not send the questioner away empty-handed.

"I do know that there is an institute in Moscow where they keep a card file in concordance with Lenin's work. So I gave {the questioner} the address," Leich said.

"I don't think there is a legitimate question that we haven't been able to answer," said Kraus. "It doesn't always mean that we have the material. But before we give up on something, we try to find out if someone else has it."

In addition to fielding questions, the staff of the European Division also prepares bibliographies of recent reference materials and makes recommendations to the library on what books and publications should be added to the collections. During the year, they may acquire through purchase or exchange with various Soviet libraries and institutions 15,000 to 17,000 books alone.

One of their most recent acquisitions was a copy of a 23-page abstract of Raisa Gorbachev's dissertation, "The Formation of New Features in Everyday Life of Kolkhoz Peasantry." Leich had requested it a year and a half ago when he was working at the University of Illinois library. Just a week or so before the Soviet first couple arrived in Washington, the University of Illinois received a copy of the abstract from one of its Soviet exchange partners and made a copy for the Library of Congress, Leich said.

"We'd been looking for Raisa Gorbachev's dissertation for over a year before we got our hands on the abstract," said Leich. "It's about a third to half of the dissertation. The original is never available outside the Soviet Union."

The library had wanted to have a copy on hand to keep its Soviet collection current and to show Raisa Gorbachev, had she visited the European Reading Room while she was in Washington. She never made it, but the staff was prepared for her. And, like a Boy Scout, they must be prepared. For anything and anyone.

Graham recalled that during the summit, a man asked him to translate a letter from English to Russian. The letter, addressed to Gorbachev, was a request for asylum in the Soviet Union. Graham translated the letter but insisted that the man copy it in his own hand.

"You never know what you're going to get. No day is the same," Graham said.

In October, Kraus showed a delegation of Soviets that included Pravda Editor in Chief Viktor Afanasiev around the European Reading Room.

While Kraus demonstrated how the staff uses the computer to search for information, Afanasiev asked if the library had any of his books. Kraus typed in the newspaper editor's name and within minutes 60 titles popped up on the screen.

"He was quite impressed," Kraus said. "I think many of our Soviet visitors don't comprehend the vastness of the library's collections. We have 800,000 to 900,000 volumes of Russian material."

Included in that material are 1917 editions of Pravda and Izvestia, the two leading daily newspapers in the Soviet Union, as well as several first editions of Russian language classics and other rare books. In the European Reading Room, there are 10,000 volumes, 4,000 of which are in Russian.

Since Sovietologist James Billington became librarian of Congress in September, there has been an increase in the number of Soviets who have visited the European Reading Room, Kraus said, a trend he hopes will continue.

Most Soviet visitors seem pleased with the library's collection of Russian books and periodicals, but others have been downright digusted with some materials they saw. One woman, who was part of a delegation from Leningrad en route to Philadelphia to discuss a sister city arrangement, grew angry when she saw "Possev," a Russian emigres journal that is printed in Frankfurt and frequently contains articles on human rights in the Soviet Union.

"She was really upset that this emigres journal was right next to the venerable Soviet publications," Harris recalled. "She just didn't think it should be there."