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A Soviet Research Library Remembered

Edward Kasinec
Libraries & Culture
Vol. 36, No. 1, Books, Libraries, Reading, and Publishing in the Cold War (Winter, 2001), pp. 16-26
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25548888
Page Count: 11
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A Soviet Research Library Remembered
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Abstract

The author, curator of the Slavic and Baltic Division at the New York Public Library, reflects on his first experience with libraries and archives during a year of research in the former Soviet Union in 1971-72. Kasinec experienced both the positives and negatives of research work under the Soviet regime. He had the opportunity to work closely with some of Russia's finest historians, bibliographers, librarians, and archivists, benefiting from their considerable erudition and gaining a degree of familiarity with collections at some of the greatest libraries in the world. Much of Kasinec's research was conducted at the Lenin State Library in Moscow, renamed the Russian State Library in 1992. However, as a foreigner studying Filaret (Drozdov, d. 1867), a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and a figure distasteful to the Communist regime, Kasinec encountered skepticism toward his research. Kasinec notes the Marxist-Leninist organization of those catalogs that were publicly accessible, versus those to which access was limited to staff and the most trusted Soviet scholars. "Specially" trained librarians ultimately determined what it was possible to consult and photocopy. Some older scholars, mindful of the experiences of the Stalin era, were reluctant to even meet with him, and in general, the shadow of Soviet censorship (and the occasional attempted provocation) loomed over his research experience. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, suspicions relating to Soviet attempts to shape research-by barring access to special collections (whose existence was largely denied) and through the careful selection of those files that were presented to readers-have been confirmed. It is Kasinec's concern that such manipulation may have, in effect, "tainted" the "knowledge base," resulting in extensive Western holdings of tendentious material upon which researchers have based their own studies. It will take many years before we can fully assess the impact of this censorship on scholarship.

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