About the Russian, Eurasian & East European Studies Collections

The Print Collections

The year 2016 will mark the 110th anniversary of Slavic-language collecting at Columbia University Libraries, and the 70th of the creation of the position of Slavic & East European Librarian.

As of May 2015, there were 431,626 records for Columbia’s Russian, Eurasian & East European vernacular-language monographic titles in OCLC. This represents 9% of the total monographic holdings of the Columbia University Libraries as represented in OCLC; vernacular language materials in all formats (archival, sound, visual, scores, etc.) constitute 450,428 records, or approximately 8% of CUL records in OCLC.  Holdings in the languages of, and pertaining to, the cultures and countries of East Central Europe and the diverse peoples of the former Soviet Union are among the largest and most comprehensive in North America.

The collection is dispersed among the libraries in the Columbia University system, with the greatest concentrations in Butler Library, the Avery Library (Fine Arts & Architecture), the Lehman Social Sciences Library (Political Science, Sociology, etc.), and the off-site storage facility shared with Princeton Univewrsity and The New York Public Library.  The Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, and the Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library, also hold significant collections pertaining to the region.

Collaborative Collection Development

A cooperative acquisitions partnership with the Cornell University Library (known as “2CUL”) allows the librarian to avoid duplication, expanding the resources at the disposal of students and faculty on both campuses.  Agreements with Princeton University Libraries, and The New York Public Library--both coutstanding collections of retrospective and current Slavic and East European materials--further expand the resource base in the Greater Metropolitan Area.  

Access Networks

For print materials lacking in Columbia's holdings, students and faculty benefit from access (via Borrow Direct) to other great collections, such as those at Chicago, Princeton, Yale, and Harvard.  Locally, students have free and open access to the historic Slavic and East European holdings of The New York Public Library, only a short subway ride away.

In addition to substantial collections of books and journals, the Libraries provide access to a large and comprehensive body of electronic resources—texts, databases, bibliographies, etc.—for the study of Russia, Eurasia and Eastern Europe.

Archival Resources

Complementing Columbia’s extensive holdings of print materials is Columbia’s Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture, founded in 1951.  Named for Boris A. Bakhmeteff (d. 1951), the last ambassador of the Russian Provisional Government to the United States and a longtime professor at Columbia, it is the second largest (after California’s Hoover Institution) repository of manuscript, printed and visual materials related to the Russian and Eastern European émigré communities outside of the homelands.  The Archive includes almost 1,000 processed collections with more than 1.5 million individual items, including letters, documents, manuscripts, photographs, prints, clippings, and artworks.  One can perform a cross-collection search for archival materials from the Archival Collections Portal (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/archival/)

Historical Background

Decades before the term “area studies” entered the academic lexicon, Columbia University Libraries had a long-established tradition of collecting in world languages.  In the case of Eastern Europe, the first “class” in Slavic studies may have been Prince Serge Volkonskii’s (d. 1937) 1896 lecture “Russian History and Russian Literature from 1613 to 1725,” delivered at the Law School during his U.S. tour.  The earliest record of library acquisitions in the vernacular languages of this world region date to 1903, when Columbia purchased a significant collection of Czech, Polish, and Russian anarchist literature.

The origins of Columbia's ongoing committment to collecting materials from the region, however, may be most accurately traced to the 1906 gift of more than a thousand volumes of Russian official publications by the statesman (and in 1905, honorary Columbia LLD) Sergei Witte (d.1915).  Witte actually visited campus and the Library during his time in the United States, following the negotiation of the Treaty of Portsmouth ending the Russo-Japanese War. 

Other gifts soon followed.  In 1907, the financier and noted philanthropist Felix W. Warburg (d.1937) gave more than 2,700 volumes of Russian revolutionary literature published in exile—in this same year, Columbia University Library mounted an exhibition of anti-tsarist cartoons from the first Russian Revolution of 1905.

Following the establishment in 1915 of a Slavonic Department by the remarkable polyglot John Dynely Prince (d.1945), and his protégé Clarence A. Manning (d.1972) Slavic and East European studies at Columbia have grown uninterruptedly—and sometimes spectacularly, as witness the 1931 purchase of the 3,600-volume library of the historian Aleksandr E. Presniakov (d.1929) of  Leningrad.  

As early as 1919, courses were offered dealing with not only Eastern and East Central European peoples, but with the non-Slavic peoples of the Caucasus and West Asia as well. This period saw a further expansion in the range of languages and world regions represented in the Columbia University Libraries.

Following the Second World War, Columbia's Russian (now Harriman) Institute became the first of its kind in the United States.  The founders of the Institute well-understood the importance of the systematic development of library collections, and in 1946 the legendary early Directors Geroid T. Robinson (d.1971) and Philip E. Mosely (d.1972) established the position now known as the Librarian for Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies.  The first incumbent of this position was the noted Russian bookman Simeon A. Bolan (d. 1972). 

The Russian Institute was paralleled by the East Central European Institute, established in 1954 and renamed the East Central European Center in 1997.  The ECEC remains the oldest academic unit dealing exclusively with East Central Europe in any major academic institution in the United States.

The arrival on campus in the late 1950s of Edward A. Allworth—considered by many to be the father of Central (West) Asian and Soviet nationalities studies in the United States—inaugurated the intensive development of vernacular collections for these regions and peoples.  Columbia continues to develop these holdings.  For an overview of languages held and current record counts, see: 





For assistance, please e-mail: slavic@library.columbia.edu