COSEELIS — half a century of history

COSEELIS can trace its origin back to a meeting which took place fifty years ago today. A full history of its many activities still waits to be written, but I thought a few notes about the organisation’s early years might be of interest. They’re largely based on papers passed on to me by John Wall, my predecessor at the Bodleian, who was one of the founder members.

The meeting at the National Central Library in London on 19th November 1964 was convened by SCONUL (then still called the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries). It was prompted by the massive expansion of university research and teaching in Soviet and East European studies which was taking place in response to the 1961 Hayter Report. SCONUL wanted to consider the library implications of this expansion, and in particular to promote closer collaboration between libraries which were actively collecting in the field. Chaired by Geoffrey Woledge, Librarian of the London School of Economics, this first meeting brought together (by invitation) the representatives of eighteen libraries.

Having agreed on the need for regular consultation and organised cooperation, the meeting set up a smaller group of specialists from nine libraries to recommend further action. This group met very promptly, on 11th December 1964. Many of the issues raised that day still resonate with us fifty years later: identifying gaps in holdings; cooperation over acquisitions; disposal of duplicates; and contact with academics in the field. The group wanted to set up a ‘newssheet’, and agreed to press for the creation of a union list of serials and the expansion of the NCL’s Slavonic Union Catalogue.

SCONUL formalised the ‘group of nine’ as the SCONUL Committee on Slavonic and East European Materials, and it held its first meeting with that status on 12th March 1965. By 1966 it had become a Sub-Committee (SCONUL-SCSEEM). It was actively canvassing other libraries across the UK to take part in its work, and the first annual conference, open to all interested institutions, was held in February 1966. The same year saw the launch of its ‘bulletin’, Solanus. (On the history of Solanus, see Chris Thomas’s article in the final volume, N.S. 23, pp. 7-12.)

In 1970 the sub-committee became a ‘group’ (SCONUL-SEEG), with its committee elected by member institutions. It was rebranded again in 1979, this time as an ‘advisory committee’ (SCONUL-ACOSEEM), and kept this name until 1992, when SCONUL decided to divest itself of all its area studies advisory committees. At that point the membership agreed to reconstitute itself as an independent body. The Chair, Tania Konn, suggested the title ‘Council for Slavonic and East European Library and Information Services’, and this is the flag we’re still flying today.

For the record, below is a list of the principal postholders over the last half-century. Here’s to the next fifty years!

Gregory Walker


1965-1974 – J. (Bob) Fulford, British Museum Library

1974-1975 – H. (Tony) Bowyer, Queen Mary College, University of London

1975-1980 – John Screen, School of Slavonic & East European Studies, University of London

1980-1986 – Gregory Walker, Bodleian Library, Oxford

1986-1990 – Ray Scrivens, Cambridge University Library

1991-1995 – Tania Konn, Glasgow University Library

1995-2002 – Christine Thomas, British Library

2002-2011 – Lesley Pitman, UCL SSEES Library

2011-   Katya Rogatchevskaia, British Library



1965-1966  – P.L. Filon, National Central Library

1966-1969 – I. Porter, NCL

1969-1973 – Ann Sweetman, NCL

1973-1980 – Olive Sutcliffe (later Kamtekar), British Library

1980-1986 – Jenny Brine, Birmingham University Library

1986-1993 – Michael McLaren-Turner, British Library

1993-2002  – Graham Camfield, LSE Library

2002-2011 – Janet Zmroczek, British Library

2011-    Mel Bach, Cambridge University Library


Treasurer (not always a separate appointment)

1976-1980 – John Freeman, SSEES

1992-2002 – Janet Zmroczek, British Library

2002-2013 – Maureen Pinder, Brotherton Library, University of Leeds

2013-             Claudia Ricci, London Library

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