This October, researchers with an interest in Russia received a helpful reminder that it’s effectively impossible to study a country without taking a few steps beyond its central archives. A two-part webinar featuring the staff members of six Siberian libraries with the support of the ASEEES Committee on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) and REEI, led attendees through the wealth of primary and secondary sources available to scholars in Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Tyumen, Krasnoyarsk, and Ulan-Ude. Organized and moderated by Veronika Trotter (MLS, 2018; MA, Slavic, 2011), Senior Collections Reference Assistant for Area Studies at IU Libraries, the two sessions took place on October 8 and October 22. Anna Arays (MLS, 2014; MA, REEI, 2014), Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies at Yale University, provided technical assistance. Both Arays and Trotter sit on the Education & Access Subcommittee of CLIR, which Arays also serves as chair.
All of the Siberian participants did their best to highlight ease of access to the collections of their libraries, so by the end of the two-part webinar, it was hard to imagine the attendees (particularly the American ones) being even in the least intimidated by the prospect of exploring Siberian libraries. The city of Novosibirsk was represented by the State Public Scientific and Technological Library of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SPSTL SB RAS). Known for its research on scientometrics and book history, SPSTL is one of the largest libraries in Russia. Its Patent Information Services center houses millions of patents issued in pre-revolutionary, Soviet, and modern Russia, an extremely valuable resource to historians of science and technology. The rare books department offers online access to early modern Russian manuscripts, many of them unique to Siberian collections. Those interested in local indigenous cultures may refer to the Scholarly Siberia bibliographic database, which covers not only ethnographic and historical literature, but also environmental and scientific studies.
The Research Library of Tomsk State University (TSU) similarly boasts an extensive incunabula and manuscript collection dating back to the twelfth century, with digital access for many items, including Old Believer birch bark documents and seventeenth-century local Orthodox Church clerical records. A library resources aggregator, PRO Siberia puts these, as well as an enormous collection of imperial and early Soviet periodicals, at the researchers’ fingertips. Oral history collections from various Siberian peoples are available from the TSU’s V. M. Florinsky Museum of Siberian Archaeology and Ethnography (unfortunately, these currently lack search aids). Tyumen’ State University’s Library and Museum deftly combines exhibition space with research facilities and runs a digital project on the history of Tyumen’ from Neolithic times up to 2012. The Library and Publishing Complex of Siberian Federal University (SFU) in Krasnoyarsk holds a significant number of books on the environment of the Russian Far North and the impact that the major local industries have on it. In collaboration with the State Archives for the Krasnoyarsk Territory, this library is working on digitizing the archival collections on local history (unfortunately, so far these are only available on-site). Historians and sociologists of science might also be interested in SFU’s open repository of published work and conference proceedings of the Yenisei River basin universities: SFU, Tuvan State University in Kyzyl, and Khakassia State University in Abakan.
Any researcher studying minority languages of Russia from a historical perspective would find themselves at home in Ulan-Ude, where the National Library of the Republic of Buryatia keeps a collection of 19th and 20th century rare Buddhist manuscripts and woodcut prints in the Buryat and Old Mongolian languages, as well as materials from Christian missions active in the region in the tsarist era, early Soviet newspapers in Russian and Buryat, and sheet music. The last presentation in the series came from the staff of the Molchanov-Sibirskii Universal Research Library in Irkutsk, touting, in particular, the Priangarie Chronicles, their electronic local history database—which, for example, includes the almost full run of a newspaper published by the now-defunct Baikal Cellulose Factory, once a major polluter of the nearby Lake Baikal, and archives of other local publications with many issues dating from before 1917. Scholars of visual culture and journalism would also appreciate the 26,000 photographs from Edgar Bryukhanenko, an Eastern Siberian TASS bureau photographer, documenting daily life of people and institutions in the Soviet era.
Recordings of the sessions can be found online: see PartOne and PartTwo. The slide presentation of the Irkutsk Regional State Universal Research Library can be found on YouTube here. The other slide presentations are available for download at SiberianlibrariesPPT.
Overall, the webinar demonstrated that Siberian libraries are thriving in the digital age as they provide constantly expanding opportunities for remote research, something that COVID-era scholars benefit from like never before.
Stepan Serdiukov is a doctoral candidate in History at Indiana University.