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Choldin wins prestigious Pushkin Medal

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
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Marianna Tax Choldin holding a book
Photo by Bill Wiegand
Marianna Tax Choldin has worked closely for the past decade with Russian libraries and librarians, addressing such issues as access to information, intellectual freedom and the history of censorship.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Marianna Tax Choldin, the C. Walter and Gerda B. Mortenson Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois Library, has won Russia's prestigious Pushkin Medal.

The Pushkin Medal, given by the Russian government, recognizes extraordinary contributions to Russia in the sphere of Russian culture and education. Established in 1999 by (former) Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the award commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alexander Pushkin. Previous winners were Dmitry Likhachev, a renowned scholar of the humanities, and George Soros, an American philanthropist.

Pushkin is widely considered to be Russia's greatest poet. Choldin received notification of the honor on July 28, during the Fifth International Slavic Librarians' Conference in Tallinn, Estonia.

"The news of this award was the crowning event of the [conference's] recognition ceremony," Choldin said, "and a surprise" for her.

As founding director of the UI Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, and as chair of the Soros Foundation's Network Library Program, Choldin has worked closely for the past decade with Russian libraries and librarians, addressing such issues as access to information, intellectual freedom and the history of censorship.

Established by two generous gifts from C. Walter and Gerda B. Mortenson, the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs seeks to strengthen international ties among libraries and librarians, regardless of geographic location or access to technology.

"The Mortenson Center has hosted more than 100 librarians from Russia, and I've visited numerous libraries throughout Russia," Choldin said.

"Through the Soros program, we've helped dozens of libraries in many areas of library development, including automation, collection development, preservation, Internet access and training," she said.

Choldin, who became the founding director of the Mortenson Center for International Library Programs in 1991, has traveled the world to work with librarians, promoting improved library services, new technologies and, especially, freedom of information.

In conjunction with her activities as the Mortenson Distinguished Professor, she chairs the library program of the Soros Foundation, which has distributed millions of dollars to libraries and librarians in more than 30 countries.

Choldin has been on the UI faculty since 1969, and has served as director of the Russian and East European Center and as head of the Slavic and East European Library. Currently, she is an adjunct professor in the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

Her research focuses on censorship in Russia, the (former) Soviet Union and the post-Communist world. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including "A Fence Around the Empire: Russian Censorship of Western Ideas Under the Tsars" and she co-edited "The Red Pencil: Artists, Scholars, and Censors in the USSR" with Maurice Friedberg, UI professor of Russian literature.

Choldin received her bachelor's and doctoral degrees at the University of Chicago.

The Mortenson Center Associates program offers an opportunity for librarians and those engaged in library-related activities to come to the University of Illinois to learn the workings of a major U.S. academic library and to share their experiences, Choldin said.

To date, more than 485 librarians and information specialists from more than 75 countries have taken advantage of the Center -- the only one of its kind in the world. Each year the center sponsors a distinguished lecture by an international speaker on a topic related to international understanding and intellectual freedom. The texts of the speeches are available in published form, and the text of the most recent speech is posted on the program's Web site at