Monday, August 11, 2008

Latvian Collection at University of Washington

I spent 15 years collecting Latvian books and other materials at the Latvian Studies Center (LSC) Library, but when Latvia became independent and the Latvian Program at Western Michigan University closed, the nationwide Latvian community could no longer maintain a library. I found a home for it in various institutions, but the primary one was at the University of Washington, which had just started a Baltic program. Michael Biggins, the head of the Slavic and East European division was willing to take it in. Since I was visiting Seattle and UW, I had to visit him and my “child”, as I used to call the LSC Library, before I had a real child. All 12,000 or so books I sent are cataloged, and Michael proudly showed how the Baltic history collection had grown from a couple of shelves to quite a few sections of books. I was most familiar with the literature section, which was shelved in about 16 sections, with about 4000 books. My original collection has been supplemented by regular additions from Latvia – about 250 new books a year. Having this solid Latvian collection has been leveraged to similarly grow the Lithuanian collection (9 sections in literature or about 2250 books), and Estonian is evolving too (4.5 sections or 1100 books). Of course, Latvian materials end up classified in various parts of the library, but the easiest sections to see were the DK’s for history and PG’s for literature, though I had also sent them microfilms and Latvian materials were in various sections of the N’s for art. Since there is a separate art library that focuses on North American and Western European art, this section is just for other art, often in the language of origin. Music too has Latvian materials and the choir director at UW is especially interested in Baltic choral music, so they have asked cataloging to provide additional tagging to be able to pull these out as a Baltic Choral Collection. The UW choir has visited the Baltic States with concerts, and has a Baltic repertoire. With the growth in interest in the study of cinema, they are also purchasing Baltic films.

I met the two catalogers that have worked on my collection – Jake and Nadia, and felt an instant affinity towards the people who had lovingly processed “my” books.

Besides getting books through an exchange program with the National Library of Latvia, they are also subscribing to 40-50 periodical titles. The newspapers in Latvia seem to be especially difficult to obtain, as the online access and archive are held by a private company – Lursoft, which does not allow for institutional subscriptions. The Estonians, on the other hand, have great free access to their news archives.

The Slavic & East European (including Baltic) collection does get used, circulating about 25,000 items (out of 400,000) per year.

I liked their pre-searched lists of new books. See their New Arrival in International Studies by country. You just choose your country of interest and see the books received in the last months, with a link to the catalog record.

One of the digital projects at UW is the William C. Brumfield Russian Architecture Collection. He is the eminent scholar on this in the states and has published numerous books, some in Russia. Brumfield teaches at Tulane in New Orleans, so Hurricane Katrina accelerated the motivation to get everything digitized quickly. There were challenges with metadata describing both the photograph and the building. They have gone with the METS system that lets them catalog the building as the core item, but also allows for full descriptions of the photo.

A woman at UW has photographed 12 members from each local Baltic community, included a short oral history, and an artifact from their own family albums. This exhibit will be traveling to the Baltic States next year and there is talk of expanding it.

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