2017 Summer Research Lab Reception

Faculty, staff, students, and Summer Research Lab (SRL) participants celebrated the start of this year’s SRL with a reception at the University YMCA on June 21. Food from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region was served. Joe Lenkart, Manager of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS), gave his remarks. Everyone had a great time catching up with colleagues, meeting visiting researchers, and enjoying the refreshments.

2016 Summer Research Laboratory Reception and Slavic Reference Service 40th Anniversary Celebration

Faculty, staff, students, and Summer Research Lab (SRL) participants celebrated the beginning of SRL and the 40th anniversary of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) with a reception at the University YMCA on June 21, 2016. Attendees enjoyed food from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region prepared by Piato Cafe. Speakers from the University Library and REEEC reminisced on the origins of SRL and SRS, including Larry Miller’s and Ralph Fisher’s tireless efforts to build the programs, and praised the good work both organizations continue to do to promote research and studies on the region. Everyone had a wonderful time with friends and colleagues!

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2015 Summer Research Laboratory Reception

Faculty, graduate student, and staff affiliates of REEEC gathered at the University YMCA on June 19, 2015, to welcome the 2015 Summer Research Laboratory (SRL) participants, and honor the legacy of REEEC and SRL founder Ralph Fisher. Organized by the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) and REEEC, the event highlighted the beginning of SRL. John Wilkin, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, was in attendance and gave his remarks. Everyone enjoyed eating the delicious food from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region and socializing with colleagues.

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Reflections on the Founding of REEEC

This is a re-posting of an article published in the Illinois International Review. International Programs and Studies (IPS) commissioned the article in honor of Ralph Fisher’s recognition in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) Centennial Gallery of Excellence for establishing the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC), and creating a wonderful legacy for international studies and area studies centers at the University of Illinois. To view the original article, please see http://international.illinois.edu/iir/Spring2014/reflections.html.


Ralph Fisher and Larry Miller in the Slavic Library celebrating Fisher's 90th birthday, April 5, 2010. Photographed by Alisa Kolodizner.

Ralph Fisher and Larry Miller in the Slavic Library celebrating Fisher’s 90th birthday, April 5, 2010. Photographed by Alisa Kolodizner.

When Ralph Fisher, the founder of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center (REEEC), first came to the University of Illinois in 1958, Illinois was not a major center for Russian and East European Studies.  In his memoir, Swimming with the Current (1992), Fisher remarks that in a 1956 U.S. State Department publication identifying the country’s academic centers on the region, “Illinois had not even been listed among the also-rans.”  In fact, other Midwestern institutions like the University of Chicago, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin were “far ahead.”  According to Fisher, “there was no obvious, altruistic-sounding sales pitch for adding a Russian center in east-central Illinois.” From these humble beginnings, Fisher built Illinois into one of the most important academic and research centers for Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia, not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Larry Miller, the Senior Slavic Bibliographer and Collection Development Officer at the University of Illinois Libraries, affirms the significance of Ralph Fisher’s legacy. He was the first Slavic librarian at Illinois, who came to Champaign-Urbana in 1959, fresh out of the Indiana University library school, where he received a degree that combined library science and Slavic Studies.  One of the main reasons why Miller came was that Fisher needed a Slavic librarian to catalog all the Russian books he had purchased, a build-up of the Russian collections that was completely his initiative and enthusiastically supported by the University Library.  At his job interview, Miller was impressed with the people and the staff, which resulted in him accepting the position.  He began his Illinois career as the Slavic cataloger in the cataloging department.  During his two years as a cataloger, Miller cataloged books from Russian libraries.  In his third year, he became the acting head of Slavic acquisitions, which meant that he was also a member of the Center’s executive committee.  At that time, the head of acquisitions was also a part of the executive committee.1960-1961 was the first academic year for the Russian and East European Center.  From its inception, it emphasized an interdisciplinary curriculum.  It offered an undergraduate major and a graduate certificate.  The Russian Department, which worked closely with the Center, was able to offer a master’s degree.  Additionally, the Center ensured that the Library became a world-class institution.  The Library budget and staff of Slavic specialists continued to grow.  Dmytro Shtohryn, a specialist in Ukrainian Studies who continues to contribute to the field today, was hired in January 1960.  The allowance for Russian acquisitions increased to $34,000, which resulted in the ability to purchase more texts and add to the Library’s collection.

Dr. Ralph Fisher was honored as one of 25 prominent people in the College of LAS Centennial Gallery of Excellence.

Dr. Ralph Fisher was honored as one of 25 prominent people in the College of LAS Centennial Gallery of Excellence. Photos courtesy of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center.

From 1959 to 1987, Fisher was director of the Russian and East European Center.  In Swimming with the Current, he humbly states that he “might more precisely have been called ‘facilitator’ or ‘promoter.’”  He describes his role as “that of helping others to do what they wanted to do and responding to their encouragement and appreciation.”  Nevertheless, his leadership was crucial to the Center’s growth.  “Our Center had smooth sailing with our university administration,” he mentions in his memoir.  He points out the helpfulness of administrators like President David Henry, Provost Lyle Lanier, and Deans Jack Peltason and Bob Rogers.  “From my standpoint, they were near-perfect bosses: They understood what our Center needed; they encouraged and supported us within their means, and at the same time they gave us a long leash.”

Throughout his career, Fisher knew the importance of an outstanding library for research and scholarship.  He was a huge supporter for the Library and knew how important a wealth of academic resources was for the Center.  He persuaded the Center’s executive committee to champion the Library. Miller remembers that Fisher could be very convincing and firm in his passion for the Library.  Robert Downs, the dean of the University Library at that time, was amazed at the level of support among the faculty.  He was very happy to support Fisher’s efforts to grow the reputations of both the Center and the Library.  In his interactions with Dean Downs, Fisher had a solid commitment from the University Library to build major collections in order to attract students and faculty, collections that would rival Columbia, Berkeley, and Harvard.  He wrote hundreds of proposals and reports to seek funds for both the Center and the Library.  He would discuss with Miller, who was responsible for writing the Library portion, what should go into the proposals in terms of the Library’s needs.  He constantly urged Miller to take advantage of special opportunities that would come up to buy books and add to the Library’s already impressive collection.  According to Miller, having Fisher’s enthusiastic support was a “dream come true.”  Fisher’s good professional relationship with Dean Downs and his active fund-raising led to the University of Illinois hosting the Midwest Slavic Library Conference in 1964.  By that year, Illinois already had the largest Slavic collection in the Midwest, a feat accomplished in less than 6 years.

Fisher smiles for the camera with Department of History Chair Diane Koenker and history Professor Mark Steinberg.

Fisher smiles for the camera with Department of History Chair Diane Koenker and history Professor Mark Steinberg.

In Larry Miller’s words, the relationship between the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center and the Library is an “ideal relationship, for sure.”  In 1966-1967, the Center’s executive committee asked Miller to organize a course in Slavic bibliography because students were unsure of how to use the Library’s amazing collection.  The first course took place in 1967 in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) and was a success.  The course indicated how much the Center appreciated the Library’s collection and the importance of students knowing how to use such a remarkable resource.

However, the Center did not only have strong connections to the Library, but also to other departments around campus.  Starting in 1963, it sponsored undergraduate majors in Russian language and area studies, and East European and Russian Studies, along with a graduate certificate in Russian language and area studies with the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.  From 1961 to 1971, the Center and its affiliated departments graduated 586 undergraduate students, 206 master’s students, and 49 doctoral students.  The Center’s wealth of scholarly resources helped its different departmental affiliates to attract and retain top faculty.  By 1971, the Center had around 38 faculty members whose teaching concentrated on or incorporated Russia and Eastern Europe.  Some of them are still teaching at Illinois today, including Keith Hitchins (history) and Peter Maggs (law).

Fisher, Steinberg, and Prof. Donna Buchanan.

Fisher, Steinberg, and Prof. Donna Buchanan.

Real cooperation between the Library and the Center began in 1970.  The Slavic Division was formerly part of the Special Languages Department of the University Library.  In 1970, the Slavic collections moved into room 225 of the Main Library, which became the Slavic and East European Library.  In his memoir, Fisher calls it the “most momentous single event of the early stage of our Center.”  For the first time, all the staff working on the region was combined in one room.  There was a circulating collection and a display of current periodicals.  The Library became a gathering place, leading to a closer relationship between the librarians and the faculty.  1970 was also the year that the Library conducted its first major outreach activity: a government-funded 6-week course to train Slavic librarians.  There were 15 librarians in that inaugural class. Furthermore, 1970 was the first year that the Library gave full service to scholars studying the region.  It developed a reputation for being very helpful.  The University of Illinois had a better, more accessible setting for visiting scholars than other research libraries, an essential component being the friendly and knowledgeable library staff.  The renowned Slavic Reference Service (SRS), founded by Marianna Tax Choldin in 1975, developed from this close relationship between the librarians and scholars worldwide.

One of the most fruitful and long-lasting partnerships between the REEEC and the Library was the Summer Research Laboratory (SRL), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013.  Miller calls it a “highly successful program” that has expanded rapidly.  From its beginning in 1973, it was open to what Fisher describes as “any qualified professional with a reasonable-looking research project, up to the limit of the funds we could find for housing.”  In particular, Fisher sought out “those many people who, although well trained, were teaching in small institutions or had heavy teaching loads or had been out of academic life for a while.”  One of SRL’s goals was to create a “relaxed, non-exclusive atmosphere where dissertation-stage students and young scholars could mingle easily with experienced scholars.” During the lab’s first year, 44 scholars attended.  Last year, more than a hundred attended.  Scholars receive intensive individualized help from the librarians, who are in contact with them not only for the duration of the lab, but throughout the year.  Research undertaken at SRL has appeared in many prestigious scholarly journals.  Many authors have and continue to acknowledge SRL in their publications.  To provide even more resources for scholars from all over the world, the SRS developed as a broad reference service for anyone who needed help in finding books or citations.  “It became the centerpiece of everything,” Miller said.  The SRS was able to attain materials that were missing from North American libraries.  It could obtain microfilms of books for free from major Russian libraries.  Visiting scholars would form discussion groups, where librarians would give them background information.  The focus on the individual scholar, who could be a graduate student or a senior faculty member, was truly what distinguished SRL and SRS from other programs and services, not only in the United States, but worldwide. Even 40 years later, Larry remarked that the program remains “very unique.”  It has only added to the Center’s stellar reputation.

In conclusion, Larry Miller noted the strengths of the very close relationship between the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center, and the Library, which began under Ralph Fisher.  Together, they collaborate for the Title VI application to the U.S. Department of Education to continue funding the excellent services and programs the two organizations offer.  The expanding SRL, the outstanding SRS, and the expansion of the International Reference Service to other areas are a testament to the strong ties between the Center and the Library.  The recently formed International and Area Studies Library works with all the area studies centers to arrange special programs, outreach, and cultural events.  However, Miller praised the immense degree of cooperation between REEEC and the Library.  REEEC has “by far the most productive Library-Center partnership,” fueled by “much more intense connections.”  A highlight of the 2013-2014 academic year was the visit of Zeljko Komsic, the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The International and Area Studies Library served as the reception location, where members of the Illinois community had the opportunity to meet with President Komsic.  According to Larry Miller, the connection between REEEC and the Library is a “model for other centers to follow.”

In fall 2013, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honored Ralph Fisher for establishing and developing REEEC, an exemplary area studies center praised both on campus and around the country.  His legacy lives on in the Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum, a colloquium bringing world-renowned scholars to the Illinois campus during the summer, as well as all the programming that REEEC supports.  In the conclusion of Swimming with the Current, Ralph Fisher notes his amazement at the success of REEEC.  “I see most of all the role of good people and luck.  We had no grand design.  We depended heavily on the good will of others.”  That good will has continued to this day.

Stephanie Chung, Ph.D. Student, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

SRS Manager Joseph Lenkart Featured in ASEEES Member Spotlight

This is a re-posting of an article on the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) website. To view the original article, please see http://www.aseees.org/membership/joseph-lenkart.


Joseph Lenkart

Joseph Lenkart

Joseph Lenkart

Manager, Slavic Reference Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Education: He has a MLS and a MA in REEES from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BA from Hope College.

Joseph Lenkart is the Manager of the Slavic Reference Service at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the Reference Specialist on Central Asia.


When did you first develop an interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies?

My interest in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies started during my undergraduate years.  I was studying chemistry at Parkland College [community college in Illinois] and later at Hope College [Holland, Michigan].  During my junior year I took a course on the Crusades. During the course of that semester I became completely fascinated with Turkic and Mongolic peoples and cultures.  I started taking more courses on Eurasian history (and not organic chemistry).  Fortunately for me, Prof. Larry Penrose at Hope College encouraged me to pursue this route.  After graduating from college, I joined the U.S Peace Corps.  Instead of Mongolia (my first choice), I was sent to Smolenskaia oblast, Russian Federation.  I lived in Przheval’skoe (named after Nikolaǐ Mikhaǐlovich Przheval’skiǐ), a small village in Demidovskii raion.  My Peace Corps experience really got me interested in Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

How have your interests changed since then? Belov_bibliography_image

After studying and working in the field of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies for the last thirteen years, my interests now include library and information science. Specifically, providing year-round reference research services for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies scholars.  As the Interim Manager for the Slavic Reference Service, I am extremely proud to support the research needs of students, faculty, and independent researchers from around the world.

What is your current research project?  

I am currently working on collection usage and lending project for less commonly taught languages in North America.  A significant section of this project focuses on Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

What do you value about your ASEEES membership? 

As the premier national organization for our field, ASEEES brings together librarians, students, and seasoned researchers alike.  I strongly value this community and its support for reference research services.

Besides your professional work, what other interests and/or hobbies do you enjoy?

I enjoy playing music with my band and growing my own food.  I also enjoy cooking food from Russia and Central Asia.

Position Opening for International Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois

Note: This position was formerly the Slavic Reference Service (SRS) Manager position and will work closely with REEEC. Please circulate widely.


International Reference Librarian

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or Professor, University Library

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Position Available: The expected start date is as soon as possible after the closing date. This is a 100%, twelve-month, tenure-system appointment.

The International and Area Studies library seeks a dynamic individual to expand its renowned Slavic Reference Service (see http://www.library.illinois.edu/spx/srs.html) into other regions of the world. Under the direction of the Head of the International and Area Studies Library, the successful candidate will serve as manager of the Slavic Reference Service, and build international connections through national libraries and other organizations. Additionally, the successful candidate will cultivate local expertise to initiate and develop an International Reference Service focused on providing students, scholars, private and public sector organizations, and the general public with increased access to global and regional knowledge, including the Library’s foreign language collections.

Responsibilities: The International Reference Librarian job responsibilities include:

· Providing reference service;

· Conducting oversight and quality control on the Slavic and International Research Services, including supervision of professional staff and graduate assistants;

· Collaborating with subject and language specialists to develop online guides to research materials, and innovative digital tools to enhance discovery of and access to foreign language collections;

· Organizing and expanding the IAS library’s Summer Research Lab in collaboration with partnering area studies centers and campus units;

· Identifying and securing grants and other funding to build the International Reference Service;

· Providing instruction to students and faculty, and professional development to colleagues throughout the library;

· Serving on Library- and Campus-wide committees, task forces, and working groups;

· The International Reference Librarian will be expected to conduct scholarly research and producing publications related to disciplines concerning the provision of international reference services and/or the refinement of professional theories, policy frameworks, and practices concerning disciplines related to the provision of international reference services. The International Reference Librarian will also be expected to provide Library, University, or public service (for example as a contributor to regional, national, or international initiatives related to the position’s professional responsibilities).

Environment: The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign is one of the preeminent research libraries in the world. With more than 13 million volumes and significant digital resources, it ranks second in size among academic research libraries in the United States and first among public university libraries in the world. As the intellectual heart of the campus, the Library is committed to maintaining the strongest possible collections and services and engaging in research and development activities in pursuit of the University’s mission of teaching, scholarship, and public service. The Library currently employs approximately 90 faculty and 300 academic professionals, staff, and graduate assistants. For more detailed information, please visit http://www.library.illinois.edu/.

The Library consists of multiple departmental libraries located across campus, as well as an array of central public, technical, and administrative service units. The Library also encompasses a variety of virtual service points and “embedded librarian” programs. The International and Area Studies Library is the campus’ gateway to information and scholarship related to area, international, and global studies, connecting students and scholars to the knowledge crucial to developing global competencies through the study of distinct nations and regions, as well as transnational issues and global concerns. The IAS Library enhances opportunities for collaboration and coordination among the Library’s area and international studies specialists and provides a single, physical service point and Web presence for Library users whose needs span multiple regions of the world. Established in 2011, this new unit brings together the library’s strong area collections on Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Slavic & East Europe with thematic collections focused on Global Studies and European Union Studies in order to support area studies research and foster opportunities for cross-regional and interdisciplinary research. In total, the collection consists of nearly 2 million volumes in over 150 languages.

Qualifications: Required: MLS from an ALA-accredited school or equivalent; demonstrated fluency in written and spoken Russian; experience providing multimodal reference services (in person, email, and online/chat) in an Academic Library; demonstrated experience designing online guides and tutorials; evidence of success leading group/collaborative projects in a professional setting; excellent communication skills; Preferred: 2-plus years of post-MLS experience in an Academic library; strong record of research and publication; second Masters or PhD in a field related to Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies; written and spoken language skills in additional languages; experience working, living, or conducting field work abroad; successful grant-writing experience; supervisory experience.

Salary and Rank: Salary commensurate with credentials and experience. Librarians have faculty rank, and must demonstrate excellence in librarianship, research, and university/professional/community service in order to meet university standards for tenure and promotion. For more information, see http://www.library.illinois.edu/committee/promo/pta.html.

Terms of Appointment: Twelve-month appointment; 24 annual vacation days; 11 annual paid holidays; 12 annual sick-leave days (cumulative), plus an additional 13 sick-leave days (non-cumulative) available, if needed, each year; health insurance requiring a small co-payment is provided to employee (with the option to purchase coverage for spouse and dependents); required participation in State Universities Retirement System (SURS) (8% of annual salary is withheld and is refundable upon termination), with several options for participation in additional retirement plans; newly-hired employees are covered by the Medicare portion of Social Security and are subject to its deduction.

Campus and Community: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a comprehensive and major public land-grant university (Doctoral/Research University-Extensive) that is ranked among the best in the world. Chartered in 1867, it provides undergraduate and graduate education in more than 150 fields of study, conducts theoretical and applied research, and provides public service to the state and the nation. It employs 3,000 faculty members who serve 31,000 undergraduates and 12,000 graduate and professional students; approximately 25% of faculty receives campus-wide recognition each year for excellence in teaching. More information about the campus is available at www.illinois.edu.

The University is located in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, which have a combined population of 100,000 and are situated about 140 miles south of Chicago, 120 miles west of Indianapolis, and 170 northeast of St. Louis. The University and its surrounding communities offer a cultural and recreational environment ideally suited to the work of a major research institution. For more information about the community, visit: http://illinois.edu/about/community/community.html or http://www.ccchamber.org/.

To Apply: To ensure full consideration, please complete your candidate profile at https://jobs.illinois.edu and upload a letter of interest, resume, and contact information including email addresses for three professional references. Only applications submitted through this website will be considered For questions, please call: 217-333-8169.

Deadline: In order to ensure full consideration we urge candidates to submit application materials on or before February 7, 2014.

Illinois is an Affirmative Action /Equal Opportunity Employer and welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas who embrace and value diversity and inclusivity.


REEEC Reception in Boston

On Friday, November 22, 2013, our center welcomed Illinois and SRL Alumni, Research and Faculty Associates, and students for a reception at the ASEEES Annual Convention in Boston to celebrate 40 years of the Summer Research Laboratory and the Slavic Reference Service, and the ten-year anniversary of the Fisher Forum. Prof. David Cooper greeted guests with a couple of words on the past year’s achievements, most notably the extraordinary number of scholars who relied on SRL this year to make use of the library’s extraordinary collections on our region and the unique expertise of the Slavic Reference Service staff. There was also much to look forward to in the coming months, Prof. Cooper added, as REEEC will pursue its plans not only for another year of SRL but also for a second workshop on literary and scholarly translation to follow the successes of the first. As the Head of the International Studies Library at Illinois, Steven Witt buttressed confidence in the future of the Lab by announcing an imminent search for an International Area Studies librarian with significant Slavic background, who will manage SRS and SRL in the coming years. After these initial welcoming words, conversations and merriment resumed among our guests, lasting late into the night.

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