You can't get there from here, or how do I become a
Slavic Studies Librarian?
As new librarians looking to enter the field of Slavic librarianship soon discover,
there is no clear template for how one acquires the skills and knowledge necessary to be
successful in this field. It seems that we have all arrived by different routes. However,
despite the multiplicity of ways in which we have reached our common destination,
students interested in pursuing a career in Slavic librarianship need not rely on
serendipity: a handful of institutions do offer specialized training or degree programs,
while at others, the component parts are all available, simply awaiting final assembly by
the proactive student.
But before discussing the available educational opportunities, a number of key
questions must be considered. What are the component parts and how do they rank in
importance in real-life situations? What skills and knowledge are necessary to be
successful in the field of Slavic librarianship and how have working librarians acquired
these skills? To answer these questions, one must know something about working Slavic
librarians, about their skills, their aptitudes, and their educational and experiential
backgrounds, as well as how they perceive these factors as impacting on their work.
Through an online survey constructed for this purpose, 128 working (or recently
working) Slavic librarians contacted through the SLAVLIBs listserv responded to 24
questions on these very topics. To view the survey and the responses, go to: ?? I have
summarized the results, as they pertain to this paper below:
% were from academic libraries, % from public libraries, and % from archives, or
other institutions that were considered neither public, nor academic (university affiliated).
Answers came from librarians around the world, though % were from the US/Canada. In
my survey (available here), I queried the librarians about their educational and
experiental backgrounds, their jobs, institutions, skills, and competencies. I also queried
them as to which skills or training had best served them in their careers as Slavic
librarians (on the job work). I have inserted relevant information below. One of the
things I tried to get at was how junior librarians differ in these areas from their more
senior colleagues. I also tried to get a snapshot of the field, concerning the future of the
job market for prospective SLs (lots of older librarians, what kind of competencies).
In the chart below, I have compiled information on the major, accredited library/
information science programs1 that offer, or are associated with institutions which may
provide specialized academic, technical, or on-the-job training for would-be Slavic
librarians. The annotated list of schools that follows the chart provides additional
pertinent information about each program. The chart and annotated list should be
considered together, as neither alone is comprehensive. In compiling this information, I
took into consideration a number of factors:2
1. Does the library school offer post-Master's or PhD training? Most PhD or post-
Master's certification programs allow for significant specialization, research and
training. Such an individualized approach to education would facilitate pursuing
a specialization in Slavic librarianship.
2/3. Does the university offer MA or PhD degrees in Russian or Slavic?3 Those
universities with advanced degrees in Russian or Slavic are more apt to have the
faculty, library staff and Slavic collections necessary to make an ad hoc Slavic
library specialization work.
4/5. Does the university have a federally funded National Resource or "Area Studies"
Center?4 Universities with nationally recognized centers (often referred to by the
acronyms CREES or REES) tend not only to have excellent library collections
(requiring specialized staff) and PhD level Russian/Slavic programs, they also
have Title VI grant money in the form of FLAS scholarships for which librarians
specializing in Slavic may be eligible.5 Area studies programs (even those not
receiving Title VI funds) also tend to be more open to interdisciplinary study and
have often formalized this approach through MA/PhD certificates or Area studies
6. Is the library school ranked in the top 15 in the country according to U.S. News &
World Report's most recent (1999) ranking of accredited U.S. library science
programs?6 The higher ranked library programs tend to offer not only a better
quality education, but also more flexibility in determining what that education is.
7. Did the associated university library have full-time staff dedicated to their Slavic
collection? The existence of full-time Slavic staff is not only an indicator of the
quality of the Slavic collection, it also allows for the possibility of formal or
informal mentoring, specialized internships or other practical library experience.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science is ranked (with UNC
Chapel Hill) as the #1 program in the nation. The Slavic and East European Library at
Urbana-Champaign has been the training ground for a large number of students in the
School of Library and Information Science who wanted to pursue careers in Slavic
librarianship. A course in Slavic Bibliography has been offered by UIUC each year since
1967. This course is currently taught using WebCT and may soon be available as a
distance learning course. A number of Slavic librarians are adjunct library school faculty
members and direct students in independent study courses and practicums in various
aspects of Slavic librarianship and bibliography. The library also employs library school
students as graduate assistants in cataloging, reference, and acquisitions. Library students
have been employed by the Slavic Reference Service almost continuously since its
inception in 1975.7 These student positions are funded by a Title VIII State Department
grant supporting the Reference Service. In addition, the Slavic Librarians' Workshop, a
continuing education and training event, is held yearly at Illinois for Slavic librarians
from around the world.
The IU School of Library and Information Science (tied for the 6th spot) and REEI
[Russian & East European Institute] offer dual programs (MA/MLS or MA/MIS). The
degrees combine interdisciplinary study of the region with study of library administration,
technical services, reference, and collection development for the M.L.S., or information
management, systems analysis, online searching, and database development for the M.I.S.
Aside from coursework, there are several opportunities for internships in Slavic
cataloging or Slavic serials, or working as the assistant to the Slavic bibliographer.
University of Wisconsin (at Madison)
The University of Wisconsin's School of Library and Information Studies (ranked
8th) offers a dual MA/MLIS in Library Science and Slavic Languages. This cooperative
program is designed for students who wish to prepare for professional work in the field of
Library and Information Science, and to complement that training with an advanced
academic degree in Slavic Languages. The library employs 2 fulltime Slavic librarians
and a number of support staff.
University of Pittsburgh
Though the department of Library and Information Science (ranked 3rd) at the
University of Pittsburgh offers no formalized dual degree or training in Slavic
librarianship, it does offer an MA or PhD Certificate in Russian & East European Studies,
FLAS fellowships, and library internships. The library employs a Slavic bibliographer, a
Slavic cataloger and a number of support positions. There are often opportunities for
students with proficiencies in Slavic languages to work in the library.
University of Michigan
Michigan's School of Information (also ranked 3rd) offers no formalized training
for Slavic librarianship, but does offer the possibility of a REES or MLIS/Slavic dual
degree program, graduate area studies certificates, and FLAS funding through their
federally-funded Russian & and East European Studies center. Field experience under an
appropriate mentor is a requirement for the library degree within the School of
Information. Their library employs 3 full-time Slavic librarians and several staff. In the
past, Slavic librarians have worked on independent study projects with students from the
UNC Chapel Hill
UNC's School of Information and Library Science is tied with the Illinois as the
top ranked library science program. They offer a Master's degree or an MA or PhD
certificate in Russian & East European Studies and award FLAS fellowships through
their federally-funded Area Studies Center. The library school encourages students to
take advantage of "supervised field experience" credits to work with librarians or scholars
in Slavic at UNC or Duke. Their library employs a Slavic Bibliographer, a Slavic
Cataloger and several support staff.
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto's Centre for Russian & East European Studies offers
the possibility of dual Master's degrees with other departments, but does not have a
formalized relationship with the College of Information Studies. As a non-US school the
Centre does not receive Title VI funding. However, since 1991, 67% of students in their
Russian & East European studies programs have received some funding. Likewise, as a
Canadian institution, their information studies program was not included in those ranked
by U.S. News & World Report. It is, however, recognized as one of the top schools of its
kind in Canada. The library employs three Slavic catalogers and three Slavic Collection
development & reference librarians. Library school students often work with the library's
Slavic staff, though not as part of any formalized program.
University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas's School of Information (ranked 10th) offers advanced degrees
at the Master's and PhD level, as well as a certification of advanced study, which it seems
could allow for specialized subject training. The university has a PhD program in Slavic
and a REES-type center that offers an Area Studies MA and formalized joint Master's
programs with some other schools/departments (but currently not with the School of
Information). The library employs the equivalent of one full-time Slavic
bibliographer/cataloger. In the past, students from the library have worked with library
staff in Slavic as part of the library school's more general "mentor program."
UCLA's department of Information Studies (also ranked 10th) offers Master's and
PhD degrees in Library and Information science. They offer a number of cooperative
dual degree programs (MLIS/MA History, MLIS/MBA) but not with Slavic. They do,
however, teach a Slavic Bibliography course and encourage students to work as interns in
their desired areas. UCLA has a PhD level Slavic program and an Area Studies center
with FLAS funding. They do not, however, offer any advanced degrees or certificates
through this center. Their library employs a Slavic bibliographer, a Slavic cataloger, and
several support staff.
University of Washington
The University of Washington's Information School (ranked 18th) offers an MLIS,
an MSIM [Master's of Science in Information Management] and a PhD in Information
Science. Practical or service experience is a key component of the MLIS. Their Project
Network program matches interested students with practicing library and information
professionals. Washington offers MA and PhD degrees in Russian, and an MA through
their Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies center. The UW library employs
two Slavic librarians and a number of support staff. Both librarians are adjunct faculty,
and have taught courses in Russian and in cataloging. Internships or field work are
available for interested library school students.
University of Hawaii
University of Hawaii's School of Library and Information Science (unranked)
offers a Master's, several formalized dual degrees programs (with Information Sciences,
History, Pacific Island Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies and Law), and an
interdisciplinary PhD. The university does not have an Area Studies center for Russia &
Eastern Europe, but their federally funded Asian Studies center works closely with the
School of Library and Information Science. The library school's orientation toward
interdisciplinary study, suggests that a specialization or dual degree in Russian might be
an option. Their department of Languages and Literatures of Europe and the Americas
[LLEA] does offer an MA in Russian. The UH library employs a full-time Slavic
specialist who has worked with library interns in the past.
Florida State University
FSU's School of Information Studies (ranked 12th) offers MS, MA and PhD
degrees in Information Studies. The MA requires proficiency in a foreign language and 6
credit hours of humanities-related coursework at the graduate level. They encourage
individualized subject specialization and offer several formalized specialization programs
(though not in Slavic). Students may also receive credit for independent study with
relevant faculty or staff. MA's are offered through FSU's Russian department and
through their Russian and East European Studies graduate program. Their library does
not have a Slavic specialist.
University of Arizona
University of Arizona's School of Information Resources and Library Science
(unranked) offers MA and PhD degrees. Internships or independent study in individual
fields of interest is encouraged. The university offers an MA in Russian
Literature/Linguistics and an interdisciplinary MA in Russian Area Studies. The library
has one librarian working part-time in Slavic.
SUNY at Albany
The School of Information Science and Policy (ranked 15th) offers an MLS, a
PhD, and a Post-MLS Certificate of Advanced Study, which allows for individualized
specialization, some of which may be acquired though other schools or departments.
They also offer a number of formalized dual MLS/MA programs, though not in Slavic.
The Russian department offers an MA in Russian and a post-MA Certificate of Advanced
Study in Russian Translation. The library has one Slavic specialist who has worked
informally with students interested in Slavic librarianship.
University of Maryland
Maryland's College of Information Studies (ranked 14th) offers an MLIS and a
PhD. They have formalized dual degree programs with History and Geography. The
college's close proximity to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and other
repositories presents unique educational and experiential opportunities. Maryland's
Department of Asian and East European Languages and Cultures offers an MA in
Russian or in Second Language Acquisition and Application [SLAA] with a
specialization in Russian. The UM library has one person working part time in Slavic.
The Rutgers School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (ranked
6th with Indiana) offers an MLIS and a PhD. Their Program in Russian and East
European Languages and Literatures does not offer an MA in Russian, but does award
Certificates of Proficiency in Russian and Hungarian. Their Center for Russian, Central
and East European Studies also offers an interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate. The
library has two people working part-time in Slavic.
University of Iowa
The School of Library and Information Science (unranked) offers a Master's,
specialized joint degrees (in Law or Business) and an interdisciplinary PhD. An MA is
available through the Russian department and a BA through Iowa's Center for Russian
and East European Studies (CREES). The library has one person working part-time in
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
The School of Information Studies at UW Milwaukee (unranked) offers a
Master's, a PhD, and several coordinated (double) degree programs, one of which is an
MLIS/MAFLL [Master's in Foreign Language]. A Russian specialization is one option
for the interdisciplinary MAFLL. The library has no Slavic specialists.
The majority of library and information science schools encourage students to do
internships or fieldwork, seek out mentors in the field, or acquire additional areas of
specialization. In today's environment of shrinking budgets and expanding services, most
practicing librarians would jump at the chance to get a motivated student intern with
appropriate subject, linguistic, or technology skills. Generally, however, these kinds of
projects need to be mapped out well in advance, especially in the Slavic area, where
library science students will most likely be forging new trails. Before applying to
graduate schools one should contact the Slavic specialist at the library8 as well as check
with the library school about the requirements/limitations of internships, field placements,
or acquiring additional subject specialization. National Resource or area studies centers
should also be contacted about the possibility of FLAS or other funding, as well as about
the degrees, certificates, or other programs they might offer. Lastly, the Slavic
department should also be contacted for information on the current course schedule,
opportunities for interdisciplinary study, and simply to establish open lines for future
communication and cooperation.
As Slavic librarians, we have all arrived at a common destination. Some of us
were Slavic scholars who wandered into the library and decided to stay. Others were
bibliophiles who set out to read Tolstoi in the original and never looked back. Few of us
knew what the job might require before we began. This is not in itself a defect. The
wealth of knowledge and experience acquired along those crooked paths and dead ends is
immense, and the diversity of our educational backgrounds and life experience is a
tremendous asset to our field. Nevertheless, we should not expect our successors to find
their way by touch. With our help, perhaps the next generation will have a better
understanding of how to get here from there.
Wondering if your school is accredited? Check the ALA website at
I acquired the data presented by sifting through each university's websites (schools of
library science, Slavic departments, area studies centers/programs, and libraries), and
querying the relevant people at each of the library schools and university libraries.
I excluded schools that did not offer at least an MA in Russian or Area Studies and
advanced training beyond the Master's for LIS/IS. Syracuse is the only other top 15
library school that offers even a BA in Russian, though others offer some language
For more information on these centers, go to the government's National Resource
Center site at: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/HEP/iegps/nrc.html
For more information on FLAS fellowships, go to the FLAS fellowship website at:
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OPE/HEP/iegps/flasf.html. Other related funding
opportunities for which prospective library students may be eligible are Social Sciences
Research Council (Title VIII) scholarships for summer intensive language study.
Institutions must individually apply for and be granted SSRC funding before awarding
any scholarships, so check with your home institution to see if these scholarships are
available. Students enrolled in a Committee on International Cooperation [CIC] member
school may be eligible for a Foreign Language Enhancement Program [FLEP]
scholarship, which provides 24 students per year with living expenses scholarships to
attend intensive summer language programs offered by other member institutions. This
type of study can be especially helpful for those working on dual degrees or
interdisciplinary studies, as it allows one to quickly attain proficiency during the summer,
when one's other course commitments may not be affected. Additionally, less commonly
taught languages (Baltic, Central Asian, South Slavic, and dozens of others) are offered
though these intensive programs. To learn more about eligibility or available programs,
visit http://www.cic.uiuc.edu/programs/FLEP/. CIC members include: University of
Chicago, UIUC, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn
State, Purdue, and Wisconsin (Madison).
For complete details on the rankings and methodology, see "Best Graduate Schools."
U.S. News & World Report (1999):
The Slavic Reference Service is available online at:
To locate the Slavic specialist, first check the library's website. However, relevant
contacts are not always identifiable by their professional title or classification (e.g.
"collections services librarian"). The Slavic Library Forum listserv [SLAVLIBS] can
help with these and other questions. SLAVLIBS is a moderated listserv of nearly 300
Slavic librarians, scholars, and students. To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail with
your name, institutional affiliation, position title, e-mail address, fax and phone numbers
to Allan Urbanic (Slavic Bibliographer at UC Berkeley) at: