COSEELIS History

A meeting arranged by SCONUL (Standing Conference of National and University Libraries) in November 1964 saw the formation of the group now known as COSEELIS, set up to bring together librarians working with active collections of Slavonic and East European materials throughout the UK. Its aim has always been to facilitate cooperation and consultation between libraries, and to act as an initiator and supporter of projects and publications to further that aim.

Until 1970 the group was known as the SCONUL Subcommittee on Slavonic and East European Materials. It was then renamed the Slavonic and East European Group until 1979, when it became the SCONUL Advisory Committee on Slavonic and East European Materials. Since 1992 it has been an independent body with its present title: the Council for Slavonic and East European Libraries and Information Services.

The group’s journal Solanus first appeared in 1966, and was re-launched as an annual New Series in 1986 with a wide remit to publish scholarly and documentary contributions on all aspects of libraries, archives, bibliography, publishing and related topics concerning Russia, the former USSR and Eastern Europe. A more frequent Newsletter has been published since 1974. Support has been given to the British component of the European Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies since its inception; and COSEELIS and its predecessors have also been active participants in the publication of three successive editions (1971, 1981 and 1992) of a directory of British library resources for Slavonic and East European studies.

As one basis for its activities, the group has conducted three projects (in 1975, 1986 and 1997) to survey academic researchers’ needs for resources in Slavonic and East European studies. The findings have initiated, among other projects, a serials location service (1982-1992), and more recently union listings of microform sources and of Russian and East European newspapers. From August 1999 COSEELIS is acting as the professional advisory body to the three-year COCOREES project on cooperative collection management for Russian and East European studies.

From the outset the group has held an Annual Conference, and has from time to time organised more specialised seminars and courses. Through mutual representation and in a consultative capacity it has worked closely with academic associations, government and quasi-governmental bodies, and formal enquiries into Slavonic and East European studies in the UK. Close contact has been maintained with parallel organisations of specialist librarians in North America, Germany and France.

Gregory Walker on the history of COSEELIS: 

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!

Chair

  • J. (Bob) Fulford, British Museum Library
  • H. (Tony) Bowyer, Queen Mary College, University of London
  • John Screen, School of Slavonic & East European Studies, University of London
  • Gregory Walker, Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Ray Scrivens, Cambridge University Library
  • Tania Konn, Glasgow University Library
  • Christine Thomas, British Library
  • Lesley Pitman, UCL-SSEES

2011-                  Katya Rogatchevskaia, British Library

Secretary

  • P.L. Filon, National Central Library
  • I. Porter, NCL
  • Ann Sweetman, NCL
  • Olive Sutcliffe (later Kamtekar), British Library
  • Jenny Brine, Birmingham University Library
  • Michael McLaren-Turner, British Library
  • Graham Camfield, LSE Library
  • Janet Zmroczek, British Library

2011-                  Mel Bach, Cambridge University Library

Treasurer (not always a separate appointment)

  • John Freeman, SSEES
  • Janet Zmroczek, British Library

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

2013-                  Claudia Ricci, London Library

 

 

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