Treasures from the Pacific Northwest: Academic Library Collections Shaped by Time and Location

Report by ASEEES Committee on Libraries and Information Resources 

The library collections of the Pacific Coast Slavic and East European Consortium (PACSLAV)—Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Oregon, and University of Washington—reflect the region’s rich culture and history. They document, for example, the Russian settlements of Alaska and the first historic Russian fortress of Fort Ross in California; the Old Believers’ livelihood in Woodburn, Oregon; and the Russian, East European, and Baltic communities “melting into” American society while at the same time preserving their cultural values and heritage. 

The collections developed as Slavic studies and language courses were introduced at these universities. In 1901, Professors G. Noyes and Thomas Bacon began offering courses in Slavic languages and history at the University of California at Berkeley. Soon after, in 1915, Russian language courses were launched at the University of Washington, and gradually expanded into the teaching of other Slavic languages. At Stanford University, the Hoover Institution’s Central European and Russian collections were first developed in the early 1920s, and were complemented by the Stanford University Libraries’ concerted collecting on East Central and Southeast Europe beginning in 1959. The University of Oregon established the Department of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 1968, which grew into a degree-granting program in 1998.

The Slavic, East European, and Eurasian library collections in the Pacific Northwest are deep and wideranging, representing geographic locations and vernacular languages of Balkan and South Slavic countries, the Baltic States, South Caucasus and Central Asia, Central Europe, Russia, and Ukraine, and support a broad spectrum of teaching and research needs. Below are some highlights of the specialized collections across the four institutions.

Stanford University Libraries (SUL) 

Among the extensive Slavic and East European collections at Stanford University Libraries are ones devoted to Polish literature and artists’ books, and to Baltic studies. With respect to Polonica, the Zygmunt Haupt (1907-1975) papers comprise correspondence, literary manuscripts, drawings, notes, and photographs. The collection contains letters from prominent Polish émigrés, such as Jerzy Giedroyć, Zofia Hertz, Maria Czapska and Józef Czapski, Mieczysaw Grydzewski, Zdzisław Ruszkowski, Aleksander Janta, Józef Wittlin, and many others (finding aid available here).  

SUL collects books by contemporary Polish artists, representing new and dynamically developing artistic forms and expressions. In 1996, Wojciech Zalewski, former Curator for Slavic and Eastern European Collections, organized an exhibition of “Contemporary Polish Artists’ Books,” the first of its kind in the United States. A related 70-page catalogue, with text in English, was published in Warsaw. SUL traditionally acquires the Polish artists’ books from the Book Art Museum in Łódź. The newest acquisition is Zbigniew Brzezinski, Bibliography & Drawings = Zbigniew Brzezinski, bibliografia i rysunk (1993). This book was promoted in the Library of Congress, and the authors received an award from the American History Printing Association in 2015. SUL has acquired additional books by Pawel Tryzno and other prominent artists from Poland, such as Alicja Slowikowska, Zygmunt Januszewski, and Witold Skulicz, which can be viewed in the Special Collections and University Archives. 

The Baltic Studies collection of books, periodicals, manuscripts, and other materials has grown significantly during recent years. This, as well as the creation of the firstever Baltic curator position in a U.S. academic library has been enabled by the 2011 Kistler Ritso Foundation’s endowment to SUL, as well as the Foundation’s continuous support towards developing Baltic studies. While focusing on the occupation, resistance, freedom, and recovery of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the SUL’s Baltic collection also highlights the countries’ connections to Finland and other Nordic states. With more than 30,000 titles, this is one of the strongest collections in the United States on the history, culture, and literature of the Baltic countries. SUL has recently begun collecting Baltic manuscripts, focusing mainly on the personal papers, letters, diaries, memoirs, and photos of those who were forced to leave the Baltic States during World War II and to resettle in the United States.  

University of California at Berkeley 

UC Berkeley’s East European and Slavic Studies collections remain well-known due to their specific areas of historical strength. UC Berkeley’s collections on Russian America might be of special interest to those commemorating the 150th anniversary of the sale of Russian America’s possessions, including Alaska, to the United States. These collections are of great historical interest as they also include the scrapbooks of Father Agapius Honcharenko, the founder and editor of the first Russian language newspaper, Alaska Herald = Svoboda, in the US. 

Besides these scrapbooks, the UC Berkeley Bancroft library possesses extensive materials about Slavic groups in the Western United States, including many publications of the Russian-American Company and of the Russian settlement at Fort Ross, California. All Slavic imprints prior to 1850 are housed here along with rare literary editions. The Bancroft Library Manuscripts collection also houses the Kniazeff Collection (Russian émigré materials, documents of various Russian scouting organizations, and documents from various Russian Cossack groups). In addition to housing the print materials, the Library also has a collection of California-Russian Émigré Series of Oral Histories.

As far as the new developments, the Library has now started to collect graphic novels that are published in various parts of Eastern Europe. These novels can be searched using “East European graphic novels collection” in Library catalog

University of Oregon 

The development of Slavic collections at the University of Oregon began in 1922, when the Warner Family donated their collection of East Asian and Russian artifacts and books. The Gertrude Bass Warner collection includes sixty-six volumes about Russian, Byzantine, Slavic, and Central Asian art published from 1809 to 1939. The UO Libraries began actively acquiring Russian and East European books and serials only in 1957.

The UO Special Collections and Archives house the papers of Ruth Epperson Kennell, who spent time in the Soviet Union with Theodore Dreiser; rare photographs of Alaska; and conservative and libertarian collections of anti-communist materials, among many other collections. The UO Libraries system raises awareness about Old Believers and their heritage by providing open access to an online annotated bibliographic guide Old Believers in North America, compiled by Margaret Mckibben.  

Annually, the UO Libraries acquire a significant number of books related to Russian and East European literature, art, history, geography, and social sciences. The uniqueness of the collection, which is the largest and the most significant in the state of Oregon, draws members of the Russian speaking community, who are ardent readers and heavy users of the library, along with the students and faculty.

University of Washington 

Slavic, Baltic, and Eurasian studies continue to have a broad footprint in the academic programs at the University of Washington, and the UW Libraries continue to do their best to support the wide disciplinary and geographic spectrum represented by those programs. One of the standout resources the UW Libraries have been developing over the years is the William C. Brumfield Russian Architecture Collection, consisting of medium-resolution publicly accessible images and corresponding high-resolution archival scans of some 30,000 images of notable architectural objects located throughout Russia. Parts of UW’s Brumfield collection, well on its way toward being provided with complete metadata, can be viewed at here.

Other resources unique to UW include a Baltic choral music collection which now numbers more than 1,000 scores, audio and video recordings, musicological studies, and other materials supporting both performance and research by UW’s Choral Music programs, as well as faculty and students of the UW Baltic Studies Program. In 2005 UW accessioned the archives of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, and created a traveling and online exhibit featuring prominent members of the Seattle area Baltic American communities.  

Local donations of manuscripts and photographs continue to help the UW document the history of the Slavic and East European presence in the Puget Sound Region (such as the Royal Serbian Bookstore of Seattle collection). 

Though not unique in the strict sense, UW’s strong library holdings for such regions as the Baltics and Slovenia are among a declining number of such collections in North America for these areas and force the larger question of how North American libraries can better collaborate to ensure the availability of these valuable and increasingly scarce resources to scholars into the future.

Contributors: Barbara Krupa (Stanford), Liisi Esse (Stanford), Liladhar R. Pendse (UC Berkeley), Heghine Hakobyan (U Oregon), and Michael Biggins (U Washington)