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Trip aims to discover how Russia deals with information-access issues

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — On Friday (July 15) a dozen or so Americans are going to Russia, openly in search of “Soviet secrets and Russian revelations.”

Organizers of the two-week investigation of information and access in Russia say the trip is a “unique historical and educational exploration” of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

They also say that many of the sites the Americans will see have been closed until recently, even to privileged foreigners.

Enrollment in the tour, which is organized by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow, was open to anyone, but is of particular interest to people concerned with information-access issues and the preservation of cultural heritage institutions in Russia.

The 15-member study tour group will visit many of the two cities’ libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions “to see how Russians are dealing with the challenges of providing access to information and preservation of cultural treasures 14 years after the end of the Soviet era,” said Marianna Tax Choldin, the U.S. leader of the tour.

Choldin is a distinguished scholar of censorship and freedom of information in Russia, the Soviet Union and the post-Communist world and founding director of the U. of I.’s Mortenson Center for International Library Programs. The co-leader and Russian host is Ekaterina Genieva, director of the Rudomino Library.

Among the participants are nine librarians, including one from the Library of Congress, an education consultant, a college student and two physicians.

Their itinerary includes meetings with librarians, educators, religious leaders and people in other relevant professions who will share “their concerns and strategies for working in settings where, a short time ago, information was controlled completely by the state, and cultural institutions played a very different role in society,” Choldin said.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the participants will tour the historical sites and cultural institutions “that are, and should be, part of any tour of these cities,” Choldin said, including, in Moscow, the Kremlin and Lenin’s tomb, and, in St. Petersburg, the Hermitage and sites of the 1917 revolution.

But they will see these sites “through the eyes of Russians who will speak about them from the depth and breadth of their historical perspective and professional expertise,” Choldin said, noting that the focus will be on “how these institutions have made the transition from Russian Empire to Soviet Union to post-Soviet Russia.”

The group will see sites “that even privileged foreigners could not have seen 20 years ago,” she said.

Among the visits and tours: All Russia State Library for Foreign Literature; Sergiev Posad, one of the principal centers of the Russian Orthodox Church; Church of Kos’ma and Damian, one of the oldest Moscow churches and the first location of the Library for Foreign Literature; Russian State Library; the Mayakovsky House Museum (Lubyanka); Russian State Archive of Literature and Arts; The Petropavlovskaya (Peter and Paul) Fortress; Peterhof Palace and gardens; the museum-apartments of Alexander Pushkin, Joseph Brodsky and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; and the Russian National Library.

The itinerary includes links to the Russian sites. Marianne Steadley is the program director for the trip and for continuing professional development at GSLIS; she can be reached at 217-244-2751.