Open Access: The Summer Research Lab at Illinois

As a footnote to last month’s discussion on access, I wanted to put in a plug for our annual Summer Laboratory on Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Obviously, nothing is as cheap or convenient as reading on your own computer screen; at the other extreme, nothing says “I’m a Russian historian” like a photograph in front of the Kremlin. Yet in the end, I suppose, most scholars still want something in between. And nothing can really get a project moving—or get it finally done—as well as some concentrated time in a great research library: a place with big broad tables and collections to match, where you can find 25 rare items, spread them out on a surface all open at once, and begin to make (or finally tie up) a whole series of connections. If the library is filled with other scholars and specialists—people you’d like to meet and discuss ideas with—so much the better.

For forty years, the University of Illinois has provided such a space through its Summer Lab. Every year, dozens of scholars from around the world come to town, for days or weeks, to use our world-famous collections and to consult with the bibliographers of our Slavic Reference Service. We build special programs around the SRL, as well, including (this year) both a specialized workshop on Scholarly and Literary Translation and the 2013 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum, “Early Russian Itineraries: Movement and the Space of the Russian Empire.” For a nominal registration fee, Laboratory Participants receive full library privileges, can attend all of the workshop’s programming, and have access to inexpensive university accomodations for their stay. (We also have some limited grant money to support both travel and housing.)

My own field is early imperial Russian history, and to be honest, I can’t imagine a better place to conduct fundamental research using printed or microfilmed materials. In addition to the library’s millions of individual monographs (including hundreds of thousands of titles in the languages of the Former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc), we have a number of unique and uniquely convenient resources. We have 454 microfilm reels of finding aids to Soviet Communist Party materials from GARF, RtsKhIDNI, and TsKhSD. We hold the only copy of the famous Turkestanskii Sbornik (594 tomes of materials on Central Asia) available outside Uzbekistan. We have perhaps the most complete collection of Russian Imperial newspapers (gubernskie vedomosti) in North America. And that thumbnail description just scratches the surface: write the SRS to see what we have for you!

So if you need to get away to get your project going come to Illinois for the Lab this year. It’s a fun, social and scholarly time, part of a grand Midwest tradition of public librarianship that has helped provide working researchers with the tools they need for decades.



By John Randolph

John Randolph is Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois.

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