Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Libraries, community and change in post -Soviet Russia: The case of the Bryansk regional public library system
by Knutson, Ellen Marlene, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008, 272; 3314963
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is a case study of the civic programs of the regional public library system in Bryansk, Russia through the lens of the massive political and economic changes brought about by the fall of communism. The library system came under tremendous strain due to lack of funding, deteriorating buildings, and aging and outdated collections. Nevertheless, librarians in the region have envisioned themselves as social actors and built concrete programs that address the civic and social needs of their communities. As the notion of partiinost (or propagating the ideology of the party) faded, democratization and civil society became the concepts used in the Russian library literature for why libraries are important. Therefore, to bring some focus to the study I limited the discussion to three of the regional library's civic projects: deliberative public forums, legal and government information, and ecological education and information centers in the library. In this case study I used qualitative research methods including observation, interviews, and archival research. I collected data from 2002 to 2007 with the bulk of the data gathered in the Summer and Fall of 2006.

The work with deliberative forums is a clear example of how the libraries in the Bryansk region have positioned themselves as civic centers for their communities. Using the physical space of the libraries to bring together various members of the community is one way that libraries are striving to remain critical to the life of the community. The provision of legal and governmental information is another way that the Bryansk libraries are furthering their civic mission. Through the legal information centers the library plays a mediating role between the government and the community. This mediating role is not just through providing access to information but also through helping people navigate the state bureaucracy and working closely with the Commissioner for Human Rights to help people voice their concerns and gain resolution for their problems. The libraries in Bryansk have been working with ecological information and education since the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. The types of ecological education activities that the libraries engage in range from the more traditional library activities like developing collections and hosting seminars and working with partners, to much more hand-on activities like taking field trips to nature preserves with library users and actually cleaning-up the local stream and planting trees. Libraries have become active participants in the ecological community in Bryansk.

The librarians did not let the hardships and constraints they faced dictate their path, and they have found ways to make their libraries into community centers and to engage members of the community in civic and social activities. Part of the reason librarians in Bryansk were successful in their civic endeavors was through the way they infused the legacy of Soviet librarianship into the current incarnation of the libraries in Bryansk. Furthermore, through active outreach to both the community and the government the librarians are working to maintain their legitimacy and relevance to both.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Palmer, Carole L.
School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 69/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Library science
Keywords: Bryansk, Chernobyl, Civil society, Community, Deliberation, Legal information, Libraries, Post-Soviet, Post-Soviet Russia, Public library, Russia, Russian libraries
Publication Number: 3314963
ISBN: 978-0-549-65032-4
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