The Library and Archives Are Moving Forward!

June 14, 2021

When Michael Palij organized the Library Committee of the Shevchenko Scientific Society (U.S.) in 1958 he expressed the following idea: knowledge of Ukraine is proportionate to the number of objectively written books–so the main objective of diaspora Ukrainians is to ensure their presence in American libraries. He eventually built an outstanding Ukrainian collection at the University of Kansas. Six decades later, major university libraries have impressive Ukrainian collections. The FirstSearch/WorldCat database reveals to what extent Ukrainica is found in libraries throughout the world. Early in the Society’s history in the U.S. the library strove to collect a comprehensive collection. Today, in view of our limited storage capacity, the library does not have to possess everything. That is an outdated philosophy. We must adjust to new realities.

Our library must focus on those resources that are unique to our institution: publications of its members, books supported by our grants and our own internal records. The Society’s archive deserves our greatest attention. 200 distinct collections are housed in a climate-controlled storage area. Instead of striving to be comprehensive, our library collections policy must be selective. The library should supplement the archives by providing researchers with the necessary background information related to the biographies, memoirs, anthologies or periodicals published by individuals and organizations whose materials are found in the archives.

In September 2019 a meeting of the Executive Board mandated a request for a professional survey of the archives by Michael Andrec, a certified archivist at the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center in Somerset, NJ. For various reasons, mainly Michael’s availability, it was postponed until March 2020. Just as arrangements were being finalized, the pandemic shut down everything. In May 2021 Michael prepared a detailed, illustrated 28-page “Assessment of policies, collection management, and storage” and submitted it to the board on June 7, 2021. It outlines high-priority actions, includes positive and negative evaluations and makes a number of suggestions for improvement.

In an age of increasing digitization many of our holdings are now remotely accessible. For example, full texts of a great number of diaspora publications reside in the electronic library A new collections policy has been formulated but it needs to be edited and supplemented to meet the ever-changing needs of our institution and its membership. In light of the availability of our own publications such as the Zapysky NTSh and others in digitized format, we no longer need to store all physical copies at our location. The same applies to other research materials already held by major research collections such as New York Public Library, Harvard and Columbia Universities.

Originally, the library and archives of the Shevchenko Scientific Society developed as a result of private donations. Lacking its own building between 1947 and 1952, the Society’s library and archives were housed in various locations and in private homes. Since 1983 they have been located in the Society’s Manhattan headquarters at 63 Fourth Avenue. The library grew numerically but it lacked a clear collections policy. In 2012 the library consisting of over 35,000 volumes was located at the top level of the building. Alphabetical arrangement by author and separation into sections by language made it difficult to browse. As a result, it became a book repository rather than a resource for scholarly research. The electronic catalog developed in the late 1990s became obsolete very quickly. Despite attempts to upgrade it in the 2000s the catalog remained defunct.

Since 2011 staff of the library and archive have participated in six conferences of the Ukrainian Heritage Consortium of North America (Cleveland, Stamford, Chicago, Washington, DC, Somerset, NJ and Cambridge, MA). Press coverage of these meetings has raised the public profile of our institution. Beginning in 2012 our staff underwent a complete turnover. Library director Svitlana Andrushkiw completed 30 years of service and retired. Then archivist Kateryna Davydenko resigned to accept another professional position. Volunteer Natalia Sonevytsky and assistant archivist Ostap Kin continued working. Upon completion of his archival studies with the Society’s financial support–and having fulfilled his contractual obligations–Ostap accepted a professional position at Rutgers University in early 2019. Soon assistant librarian Serhii Panko retired and moved to Ukraine. An ad hoc personnel committee was called into action. Position descriptions were written up. Lev Chaban accepted the position of librarian-consultant. Marko Slyz joined the staff, first as a library volunteer and eventually become an employee.

Marko’s computer skills are invaluable. He has restored the defunct online catalog Future enhancements to the metadata will include names of donors, notes about autographs and inscriptions, provenance, special collections, Library of Congress subject headings, etc. Working remotely during the pandemic Marko continued to digitize the analog recordings of the Society’s lectures and special events, thus preserving a valuable heritage.

A thorough shelf reading was among the first projects undertaken by Lev Chaban and Marko Slyz. It brought to light 1,100 duplicates, which were deaccessioned along with a number of out-of-scope and popular-level books found in most public libraries. Presently the library’s resources number 31,557 items (maps, video- and sound recordings, etc.). Apparently, the rare book collection was artificially inflated–in some cases, two or three copies of these “rare” books were found in a metal cage in the archives! Unnecessary furniture was removed from the library to make room for users. Reference resources were identified and grouped together for easier access.

Marko compiled an extensive spreadsheet checklist of duplicates and out-of-scope items. The checklist was distributed electronically to a list of Slavic librarians worldwide. In response, requests came in from Cambridge University, Prague’s Slavonic Library, Cleveland’s Ukrainian Museum-Archives, libraries in Ukrainian cities like Berdiansk. The benefit of this project was two-fold: it greatly increased storage space and generated additional positive publicity for the Society. Cambridge University received five cartons of books and acknowledged the gift in a richly illustrated blogpost. On a personal note, I posted the following comment to the blog:

“It’s heartwarming to see the blogpost. I clicked on the link to the bibliographic record and chuckled when I saw the cover photo of Ivan Kernytskyi’s “Циганськими дорогами.” That copy is from the library of my great uncle Antin Malanchuk, who lived with our family. He was my “surrogate grandfather.” He immigrated to the US in the early part of the last century. I recognized the label “636” –numbers cut from old wall calendars for the purpose of keeping track of his books. I remember my father trying to keep up with his ever-growing library by building new shelves in our tiny house in New Haven, Connecticut. Growing up surrounded by his books it isn’t a mystery why both my sister and I chose library careers – she at Yale University and I at the Library of Congress. I remember when just before his death in 1963 he donated his entire collection to the Shevchenko Scientific Society in New York. I’m certain he would be happy to know that I presently chair the Archives and Library Committee of the Society.”

Indeed, we are moving in the right direction!

By Jurij Dobczansky and Lev Chaban


Сергій Панько, Остап Кінь. “БІБЛІОТЕКА ТА АРХІВ НАУКОВОГО ТОВАРИСТВА ім. ШЕВЧЕНКА АМЕРИКИ”, Наукове товариство імені Шевченка. Енциклопедія: електронна версія,  Київ, Львів: Наукове товариство імені Шевченка, Інститут енциклопедичних досліджень НАН України, 2015, [accessed June 2021]

Mel Bach (Cambridge University Library). “Ukrainian donations from New York” [accessed June 2021]