This blog post was co-authored by Alaina Economus, Slavic Language Resource Description Intern, Resource Description Department, and Erik Zitser, Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Duke University Libraries.
Is it true that Duke University Libraries hold the largest collection of Ukrainian language materials in in the southeastern United States? How do we know? And why does it matter? These are the questions that guided the collection analysis project that Alaina Economus undertook in the summer of 2023 as part of the Field Experience course for the Master of Science in Library Science degree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), under the supervision of Erik Zitser, Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at Duke University Libraries (DUL).
Why Knowing About Duke’s Ukrainian Language Collection Matters
Although DUL has been collecting Ukrainian language publications since before Ukraine’s formal declaration of independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, until now this research collection has not received a formal quantitative assessment. According to the existing library literature, doing a collection analysis is an important way of determining not only the size and focus of a particular academic collection, but also the extent to which it fulfills the research and teaching mission of both the university and the broader scholarly community. Unfortunately, relying on circulation statistics—the standard way of determining the “fit” between a collection and its users—is not very effective in the case of non-English (“foreign”) language materials. That is because such research materials support a relatively small, but select audience of specialists and, consequently, do not circulate as frequently as works published in the dominant language of most of the people who use the scholarly resources collected by American research libraries.
That is why, after conducting a literature review on the topic of collection assessment in general and Slavic language collections in particular, Alaina decided to focus not on the circulation of Duke’s Ukrainian language materials—whether among members of the Duke University community or between DUL and its interlibrary loan partners in the Triangle Research Library Network (TRLN) and Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation—but on the internal coherence of DUL’s Ukrainian collection as a whole, i.e., the extent to which these primary and secondary sources represent an interdisciplinary field of study (rather than one specific topic or area of focus) that can support at least the initial phase of a scholarly research project. For example, researchers specializing in contemporary Ukrainian literature must have access to a diverse range of works and authors. Additionally, they require a language-specific bibliographic index that includes journals not covered by English-language databases such as the MLA International Bibliography. Full-text access to major Ukrainian journals, as well as reference works and materials on authors, historical events, and cultural context (including works in English), are also necessary for the coherency and currency of this non-English-language circulating collection.
An analysis of the Ukrainian language collection at DUL is not only useful, but also topical, especially within the context of Russia’s ongoing, neo-imperialist war against Ukraine. Assessing DUL’s collection of Ukrainian language materials at a moment when Ukrainian cultural institutions (including libraries) are under direct military attack, gives Alaina’s project an added political dimension. From this perspective, this collection assessment project can be seen not only as a contribution to the decolonization of the (Russocentric) field of Slavic area studies but also to a broader dialogue about the importance of non-English language-specific materials in promoting bibliodiversity and supporting the cultural preservation of, and access to “at-risk” library collections.
The Current Composition of Duke’s Ukrainian Language Collection
A quantitative analysis of DUL’s Ukrainian language collection confirms that DUL does, indeed, hold the largest collection of Ukrainian language materials in in the southeastern United States. Just as importantly, it also documents the effectiveness of the Slavic language cooperative collection development agreement between DUL and UNC-CH libraries, the two main institutions primarily responsible for collecting Slavic language materials in the Research Triangle.
At the time of data collection (July 2023), Duke University Libraries held 11,744 Ukrainian-language items. As Figure 1 demonstrates, the majority of these items were monographic (87%) and serial (12%) publications, with only a smattering of Ukrainian-language audiovisual and cartographic materials.
As of July 2023, roughly 6% of the collection had not received any Library of Congress call number or subject heading analysis, and approximately 12% were assigned either an obsolete (Dewey Decimal) call number, government document identification number, or another classification identification. In other words, almost 20% of the Ukrainian collection remained un- or under-cataloged. Consequently, the following description relates primarily to the remaining 80% of the collection (approximately 9,400 items).
As one would expect in a general research collection focused primarily on humanities and social sciences, an analysis of LC-subject headings (Figure 2) reveals that the DUL’s Ukrainian collection is lacking in materials related to science, medicine, technology, and music; however, except for literature, history, and social sciences, no other subject class makes up more than 5% of the overall collection.
Over half of the collection (56%) is comprised of items assigned P (Literature) or D (History) call numbers, a majority of which are PG (Slavic languages, Baltic languages, and Albanian languages) and DK (History of Russia, Soviet Union, and former Soviet Republics) call numbers, respectively. As Figure 3 demonstrates, breaking down the PG class further shows that contemporary Ukrainian literature represents almost half of the total items assigned P call numbers. Approximately 11% of such items is Ukrainian-language literature that has been published after 2001.
The Benefits of Collaborative Collection Development
DUL’s Ukrainian-language holdings compare favorably to those of other members of the East Coast Consortium for Slavic Collections (ECC), a library organization that was established in 1993 to “coordinate the activities of Eurasian area studies library collections located in the eastern United States and Canada.” Besides Duke University, ECC includes representatives from twelve other repositories of large Slavic collections: Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Library of Congress, New York Public Library, New York University, Princeton University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, and Yale University. ECC members “work in concert with one another on the purchase of expensive resources…and cooperate on serial retention projects as well as duplicate exchange programs.” By means of “this type of coordination and cooperation each ECC member library can maximize its financial resources to meet the research, teaching and learning needs of their users.”
DUL’s contribution to this collective endeavor guarantees that students and scholars, both at Duke and nationwide, have access to “a full range of materials from and about this world area,” including from Ukraine. According to WorldCat data (which undercounts the holdings in the library’s online public access catalog), DUL has the eighth largest collection of Ukrainian-language materials in the ECC, with more materials than five other member libraries. Harvard University possesses the largest collection, with over 72,000 items. Dartmouth has the fewest with 286 items.
Since DUL and UNC-CH libraries are members both of ECC and TRLN, this quantitative analysis also sheds light on the effectiveness of the longstanding collection agreement between the Research Triangle’s two largest academic research libraries. Before the first decade of the 21st-century, primary responsibility for collecting research-quality Ukrainian language materials had belonged to DUL. Since 2010, however, DUL and UNC-CH have split the collecting responsibility between them: DUL now collects only Ukrainian-language materials published in the multi-national and multi-ethnic country that is post-independence Ukraine, while UNC-CH collects Ukrainian materials published in other languages, primarily Russian. As is the case with the ECC, such cooperation is intended to reduce duplication while increasing the number of unique items available in TRLN. By this logic, the number of shared items between the two institutions should be relatively low and should have declined in quantity since the mid-2000s. That is precisely what a quantitative analysis of duplicate Ukrainian titles between DUL and UNC demonstrates.
According to Figure 5, from 2004 (the year DUL began to track items and functions via its current integrated library system) to 2022, there has been a significant decline in duplicate Ukrainian items held by both DUL and UNC-CH. While the decline began before the formal establishment of the present cooperative collection development agreement in 2010, the collaboration between the two institutions has succeeded in keeping duplicates down significantly (in the single digits) since 2015. This data speaks to the effectiveness of cooperation between DUL and UNC-CH in Ukrainian collecting, both to reduce costs for individual TRLN libraries, and to create a sound foundation for North Carolina-based students and scholars interested in conducting research on his region of the world.
The Distinctiveness of Duke’s Ukrainian Language Collection
One way of demonstrating the distinctiveness of the Ukrainian-language collection at DUL is to analyze its unique holdings. According to WorldCat, DUL possesses 73 unique Ukrainian-language items, and over a thousand items that are held by only two or three other libraries worldwide. These items represent a wide variety of formats, subject areas, and publication years. Of these items, we have selected two that showcase the uniqueness and breadth of DUL’s Ukrainian-language collection.
DUL is one of only four libraries in the world (and one of only two in North America) that hold any issues of Dnipro (“The Dnepr [River]”), a Ukrainian-language newspaper published in the United States by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church between 1921 and 1950. DUL holds seven unique runs of this historical newspaper for the period 1924 to 1942. These issues provide a glimpse into the world of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, as well as capture the reactions and emotions of Ukrainian-Americans regarding events occurring in Ukraine itself. One example is the paper’s coverage of the man-made famine (Ukr. Holodomor, “death by hunger”) that killed millions of ethnic Ukrainians during the Soviet campaign to “collectivize” agriculture in 1932 and 1933, under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. Throughout the early to mid-1930s, the paper reported extensively about the famine and related events, publishing written protests against the Soviet regime, appeals for donations to aid famine victims, and poetry from readers processing the horror at what they were reading in the paper.
Dnipro contains important evidence not only the day-to-day life of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, but also captures the ways in which this community maintained and celebrated their culture abroad amidst persecution and repression at home. Its coverage, thus, complements that of the three other Ukrainian diaspora newspapers in DUL’s American Newspaper Repository Collection, which holds many foreign language and immigrant papers, including those produced by immigrants and expatriates from twentieth-century Russia and Eastern Europe. As is the case with Dnipro, some of these newspaper runs apparently exist nowhere else in the original (paper) format, which makes this collection of American historical newspapers of the Russian and East European diasporas into a resource of major scholarly significance.
DUL is also the only library in the United States to have a copy of Oderzhyma svobodoiu: shliakh Heroïni Svitu Iryny Senyk, a 2017 collection of poems, correspondence, writings, and needlework patterns of Iryna Senyk (1926-2009), a nurse, poet, and Soviet political dissident who was a member of both the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Senyk was imprisoned for a nonconsecutive total of 34 years spanning from 1945 to 1983 for her persistent support of Ukrainian sovereignty, her outspoken advocacy for other Ukrainian prisoners, and her work to bring international awareness to the human rights violations perpetrated by the Soviet regime. This book, which was published by Discursus, a small publishing house in the western Ukrainian village of Brusturiv (Kosivs’kyi raion, Ivano-Frankivs’ka oblast’), places Senyk’s writings into a larger context of the fight for Ukrainian independence during the Soviet period and provides an important example of the role of women not only in the preservation and celebration of Ukrainian culture, but also in the international human rights movement. In this sense, this unique item from the library’s circulating collection complements the non-circulating collection of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Books & Special Collections Library’s Sally Bingham Center for Women’s History & Culture and Human Rights Archive, extending their existing holdings to materials on non-Western women activists.
The preceding summary of Alaina’s research into the composition of DULS’s Ukrainian language collection showcases the importance of language-specific collection analysis in preserving cultural heritage and fostering academic research. Her work not only provides valuable insights into the composition, strengths, and gaps of the collection, but also speaks to the importance of accurate metadata to collection analysis projects. The comparison of DUL’s collection, specifically with the Ukrainian holdings of the UNC-CH library and other members of the East Coast Consortium of Slavic Library Collections, speaks to the utility and effectiveness of interinstitutional collection agreements. Finally, the unique materials presented as examples of the distinctiveness of DUL’s Ukrainian-language collection attest to its historical and cultural significance and, consequently, to its immense research potential for both current and future scholars.
The collection analysis project summarized in this blog post provides one concrete, practical example of the steps that library professionals can take to make the cultural products of formerly colonized nations like Ukraine more visible in American research repositories. The data collected during this study will be used to inform future decision about the DUL’s Ukrainian collection, including the kinds of materials we collect and the way these materials are described and made available to researchers.