COSEELIS Conference 2013 Report

In has become a long standing (well, three years to be precise) tradition to have delays in publishing the COSEELIS Conference report — here it is …

COSEELIS Annual Conference 8-9 April, 2013

After visits to Oxford and Manchester for our two previous conferences, 2013 saw us back at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge once again, partly overlapping with the BASEES conference. It was a pleasure to be back, enjoying the early April sunshine as the spring flowers came out just in time to meet us after a bitter winter.

The proceedings opened in the afternoon of Monday 8th April with a session on `Slavonic research resources in the UK: expanding, consolidating and sharing’, chaired by Janet Zmroczek (Head of European Studies at the British Library). Claudia Ricci (London Library) gave an account of the RLUK Hidden Collections report, presenting an overview and case studies from COSEELIS member libraries, including UCL SSEES and Birmingham, with a discussion of potential future directions. She described the challenges of the RETROCOM project, initiated in 2010, and the continuing existence of card catalogues alongside the achievements at SEES, where all material acquired in the last 25 years was catalogued online, and Leeds, whose Brotherton Collection contained no uncatalogued material, although the Dressler collection was catalogued only on slips. She noted issues at Birmingham involving identifying the actual location of catalogued material and unknown numbers of uncatalogued material on the open shelves when trying to obtain an accurate total of the figures involved.

Mel Bach (Cambridge University Library) followed, speaking on `Inter-library collaborations: library-led and academic-led initiatives in Slavonic and East European studies’. She cited notable examples of this, including Professor Philip Ford’s account of current issues facing modern languages departments at the French Studies Library Group AGM and Study Day 2011 (http://fslg.libr.port.ac.uk/) and CEELBAS grants for block partnerships, allowing researchers to migrate between universities in the course of a collaborative project, and the role of libraries in supporting these efforts.

We were then privileged to hear the annual guest lecture, chaired by Nick Hearn ( Taylor Institution Library, Oxford). Dr. Diana Greene of the Bobst Library, New York University, spoke on the intriguing subject of Fish and Oceanographers, Scholars and Librarians: Researching Nineteenth-Century Russian Women Writers. She explained the distinction between scholars: the `fish’ within the sea of knowledge and research, and the librarians who, like oceanographers, applied themselves to the task of classifying and ordering it. She tackled the question of how the reading-matter of these writers differed from that of their male counterparts, and the questions of the sociology of aesthetics which it raised, with consequences for the formation of an aesthetic canon.

After tea, sponsored by EastView, came a session chaired by Gerald Watkins (Birmingham) on collection development and processing, beginning with a round-table discussion on electronic publishing in the former Soviet bloc by Katya Rogatchevskaia and Susan Reynolds (British Library), Angelina Gibson (Oxford), Graham Canfield (LSE) and Bea Klotz (CEEOL in absentia). They surveyed the growth of e-publications in Eastern and Central Europe and their implications for library acquisitions and collection development. The cataloguing theme was continued by Peter Hellyer (British Library) in `RDA: what it means in general and what it means for us’, his study of  Resource Description and Access (RDA), the cataloguing standard being introduced to replace Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition (AACR2). He described in detail the process of implementing these changes and their consequences for both cataloguers and users. Mel Bach then chaired a sequence of vendor presentations to whet our appetites for new acquisitions on which to try out RDA rules, which led seamlessly into a reception generously sponsored by the vendors and an excellent conference dinner.

The following morning’s proceedings began. with the COSEELIS AGM. The agenda included the constitution and election of new members, notable donations to the Bodleian and British Libraries, links with AASEES, where Janet Zmroczek had observed that fewer librarians were present at the annual conference, the final issue of SOLANUS, and hopes for closer collaboration with WESLINE, whose 2013 conference was scheduled for 2-3 September at Balliol College, Oxford. Questions of recurrent subscriptions to electronic resources, as in the case won by UCL, were also a matter for concern, as were rising book prices such as those charged by MIPP. The possibility of switching to smaller and possibly cheaper suppliers raised the question of whether too many large orders might exceed their capacity with serious consequences. The acquisition of theses and access via the UTREES database was also discussed by Gregory Walker, with details of their growth and the fees incurred by users, as were matters concerning the COSEELIS website.

Dr. Katia Bowers was prevented by illness from giving her lecture on information technologies in early Russia as part of the session on `Information technologies: past and present’. However, Maureen Pinder (The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds), ably stepped into the breach to expand her presentation Information technologies for modern collections: how Leeds University is using the Copac Tools.  Lesley Pitman (UCL SSEES) supplemented her contribution, and spoke fluently and perceptively on the matter of finding a balance between the needs of users and the financial strictures facing libraries in the area of open access to electronic resources. She noted, for example that no researcher was obliged to pay the Gold Open Access charge for material obligatory for their work, and that it was obligatory for publishers to notify the imposition of such charges and to seek the advice of librarians. The value of information gathered from retiring librarians was also emphasized, with examples from the experience of theWhite Rose universities (Leeds, Sheffield and York) in working towards shared management decision tools for retaining, preserving, de-accessioning and digitizing material and engaging with academics when considering what to weed in fields ranging from colour chemistry to Icelandic. The COPAC Tools project link provided guidance for collection managers of the future.

After lunch we were treated to a visit to the Cambridge University Library to see exhibits featured in the recent exhibition `A Soviet Design for Life’ (http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Cooke/). The late Catherine Cooke’s impressive collection of Soviet ephemera, including posters, booklets, postcards, cigarette packets and chocolate wrappers furnished us with a fascinating insight into the era and the penetration of ideology into every area of Soviet life. We were very grateful to Mel Bach for making this visit possible after the official closure of the exhibition and providing expert guidance and information about the reactions which it had provoked.

At the conclusion of the tour the 2013 conference came to an end, and we dispersed in anticipation of next year’s meeting in Leeds – for many a first chance to visit the Brotherton Collection.

Susan Reynolds / Halstead

Curator of Czech & Slovak

The British Library

See the photos  of the 2013 Conference at https://coseelis.wordpress.com/picture-gallery/

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