CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Library directors and regional government officials from across Russia currently are meeting with their U.S. counterparts in several Illinois towns and cities. The groups two-week immersion in U.S. library and local government management, which began May 11, is a first step in a major Russian-American effort to begin expanding Russias book-oriented public libraries into active information centers.
"Since the end of the Soviet era a decade ago, libraries in Russia have been facing the enormous challenge of transforming themselves from institutions promoting state ideology to institutions operating in an open civil society," said Marianna Tax Choldin, the director of the University of Illinois Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, one of the sponsors of the effort, known as the Small Towns Libraries Project.
Spearheading the innovative project, in addition to the Mortenson Center, are the Rudomino School at the Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow and the Illinois State Library in Springfield. Funding for the Russian Small Towns Project comes from the Open Society Institute Russia (the Soros Foundation), the Illinois State Library and the Mortenson Center.
During the visit, which ends May 24, the 10 library directors and officials responsible for culture from five regions in Russia are meeting not only with area librarians but also with officials in a wide range of governmental and non-governmental institutions.
Since their arrival, the Russians have traveled to the Amish community in Arthur and Arcola to learn about providing library and community services to a religious minority, and they visited the Forsyth Public Library and the Archer Daniels Midland Co.
The group will spend three days in Springfield (May 14-17), learning about trends in libraries, archives and museums. At the Illinois State Library, the visitors will learn about library services and state government. The Springfield program includes tours of historical sites and a reception with several state and local government officials.
In Champaign on May 21, the Russian contingent will tour the UI Mortenson Center, and meet with Mayor Gerald Schweighart of Champaign and with Steve Carter, the Champaign city manager. They also will tour the TIMES Center in Champaign, a mens shelter, with Joyce Schmidt, the TIMES administrator.
On May 22, the Russians will visit Sinai Temple, the Crisis Nursery and the Douglass Branch of the Champaign Public Library. Later that day, they will meet with George Scheetz, the director of the Champaign Public Library, to discuss local support of libraries, and with Richard Schnuer, the finance director of the city of Champaign.
Short trips to St. Louis and to Chicago also are scheduled. In Chicago, the group will visit the Chicago Public Library and later meet with Don Wycliff, public editor of the Chicago Tribune.
The Mortenson Center was established as part of the UI Library in 1991 to strengthen ties among librarians worldwide. To date, more than 500 librarians from 75 countries have visited the center, which is the only one of its kind in the world. The Mortenson Center Web site is www.library.uiuc.edu/mortenson.
For more information about the Russian Small Towns Project, contact Cindy Ashwill, associate director of development and public affairs at the UI Library, at (217) 333-5682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.