The foundation of a systematic Slavic collection at Duke University dates back to the period immediately following the end of the Second World War, during a time that witnessed the birth of international and area studies in the United States. Soon after Columbia University became the first institution of higher education in the country to open a center devoted specifically to the study of the Soviet Union, Duke University hired one Columbia graduate (John Shelton Curtiss) as its first professional Russian historian (1947), and appointed another one (Thomas Wiener) as a one-man-academic department devoted exclusively to the study of Slavic languages and literatures (1958), and, thanks to Wiener’s research interests, to Central Asia as well. For more than a quarter of a century afterwards, until the appointment of Orest Pelech as Duke’s first Slavic bibliographer (1985), the faculty of these two academic departments played a direct role in the selection of crucial monographic titles and of the most important Soviet serials. This unique example of faculty-staff collaboration laid the foundation for what is arguably the first Slavic studies collection in the states of the Old Confederacy.
In the late 1950s, as part of an effort to maximize on its investment in Slavic studies, Duke University Library established a regular and long-standing approval plan with the Parisian-based dealer, Les Livres Etrangers, at the time one of the few authorized distributors of Soviet imprints outside of the Eastern bloc. At the same time, the library also joined the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN), a consortium of libraries then composed of Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia. As part of this cooperative collection development agreement, which is still in force today, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, divided "Eastern Europe" in terms of primary collecting responsibility. UNC-Chapel Hill specialized in vernacular imprints from the former Czechoslovakia, the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, South Slavic literary history and criticism, belles-lettres, and works on 18th- and 19th-century Russian history, while Duke University Library became responsible for collecing both vernacular and non-vernacular (primarily English-language) materials on Poland, Slavic linguistics, Russian film, and contemporary Russia (which now includes the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union in Northern Eurasia and Central Asia).
In 2005, the joint Duke-UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies (CSEES), a recipient of funds from the Title VI program of the U.S. Department of Education, reported that the combined Slavic and East European collection at these two research libraries included approximately 1.5 million volumes (700,000 items), or about 14% of their total collections, just in the vernacular languages alone. This means that together Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill libraries not only possess the largest and most wide-ranging Slavic and East European studies collections in the Southeastern United States, but also that their collecting exceeds all other universities in the region in absolute growth. To that end, Duke University library has continued to work together with UNC-Chapel Hill and other TRLN members to coordinate the purchase of expensive items such as large documentary microform collections and have cooperated in providing reference services to scholars in the area. A shared on-line catalog and a courier service make possible the delivery of most materials to any of the ten libraries of the four-university TRLN network within 24 hours.
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