Notes from the Chair 2021

ESS Newsletter

2021, Vol. 1

Dear ESS Members,

It’s been a year, obviously. The last time we were able to meet in person was the Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia in late January 2020. At that time it had recently been decided that that would be the last in-person Midwinter meeting of ESS, but we had no idea it would be more than two full years before the Section could hold in-person meetings again. Heidi Madden (Duke) wound up having to guide the Section through an unexpected transition to the virtual mode for Annual 2020. I chaired my first meetings — Midwinter 2021 — virtually, and now we’re ramping up for another series of virtual meetings for Annual 2021 at the end of June. Over this exhausting and disorienting year, ESS’s Executive Committee and the leaders and members of its committees and discussion groups have shown truly remarkable stamina and commitment, for which I am hugely grateful. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to coordinate and support the work of such extraordinarily dedicated and energetic élite professionals over the past several months.

I feel a sense of deep personal investment in the success of ESS. I was Chair of the Slavic and East European Section (SEES) for its last full year (2016-17), and over that year and the year before as Vice Chair I worked intensively with Brenda Carter (University of Pittsburgh), Katie Gibson (Miami University in Ohio), Lana Soglasnova (University of Toronto), and Kristen Totleben (University of Rochester) to engineer the merger of the two sections. I thoroughly enjoyed developing close relationships with the erstwhile Western European Studies Section (WESS) crew, and was immensely gratified to be elected in 2019 as the fifth chair of the Section that was a product of those efforts. I have been greatly fortunate to inherit charge of the Section from a line of exceptionally dedicated and skillful stewards: Lana Soglasnova, Kristen Totleben, Ann Snoeyenbos, and Heidi Madden. They left ESS in fantastic shape and have been invaluable expert advisers to me this year. My one big regret is the fact that in my year as Chair I have missed out on what would have been the great pleasure of working with the phenomenal members of ESS in person and enjoying their company at all of the informal gatherings that usually attend Annual and Midwinter meetings. Le sigh.

I am enormously impressed at how gracefully ESS’s Executive Committee and the leaders and members of its committees and discussion groups have adapted to their virtual environment. They have done a truly remarkable job of confronting this year’s many formidable obstacles with resolve and seizing the opportunities presented by the online medium, opportunities for projecting the evolving identity of the still new Section and for engagement with the broadest possible range of interested colleagues and partners worldwide. All of our meetings at both of the virtual conferences (Annual 2020 and Midwinter 2021) enjoyed substantially larger participation than the in-person meetings historically have.

Over the past year ESS has continued the work of uniting East and West and pursuing a pan-European scope and identity. We saw increased representation of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian librarianship this year, a trend I very much hope persists in the coming years. Beyond the labile border between Eastern and Western Europe, though, the Section has also given a great deal of thought in this politically and socially unstable year to how its new pan-European identity fits into the contemporary global landscape, to the fuzzy boundaries of Europe itself, to questions of colonialism, migration, diaspora, the changing demographic of the European continent, and urgent present-day issues around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

In the course of this work, we have reached out and engaged with other collectives having a broad range of purviews. When, in June 2020, the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) published its Collection Development and Equity in the Time of Covid-19 Task Force Resolution, ESS coordinated the drafting of a statement about the negative impact a large-scale shift away from print collecting and further consolidation of acquisitions arrangements with large-scale aggregators of electronic content was likely to have on the representation of the populations and cultures of the European continent in North American research collections. That statement was issued in August 2020 under the aegis of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), with the Collaborative Initiative for French Language Collections (CIFNAL), the German North-American Research Partnership (GNARP), and the Slavic East European Materials Project (SEEMP) as co-signatories. Then, ESS coordinated the composition of another statement to be issued by ACRL, working closely with ACRL’s Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Studies Interest Group; the African-American Studies Librarians Interest Group; and the Women and Gender Studies Section. This second statement, published by ACRL in October, emphasized the vulnerability of the publishing output of traditionally under-represented populations to exclusion or further marginalization in an e-dominant collection development model. This included the output of historically subaltern populations on the European continent.

All of this work has occasioned contemplation of the position of a professional body like ESS — one that asserts a distinctly European identity — in the present moment. In the context of DEI, Europe tends to be viewed as a colonialist hegemonic power that has for far too long been unduly privileged in global cultural canons and historical records, to the detriment of other non-European peoples. We have had to pause and think about how to advance the imperatives of DEI in the European Studies context, and how to express a European identity in our professional sphere in ways that are sensitive and relevant to the present moment. A vigorous response to this challenge has come in the form of an ad hoc ESS Committee on DEI convened on the initiative of our incoming Chair for 2021-22 Hélène Huet (University of Florida). Under Hélène’s leadership, that Committee has been meeting with other ACRL divisions that have formed DEI committees or task forces to see how efforts can be coordinated across the larger organization.

Concomitantly with this introspective work, ESS has been making efforts to craft effective representation of its evolving pan-European identity and to engage any and all communities who can meaningfully contribute to and/or be meaningfully served by the work of the Section. These are, first and foremost, specialists with expertise in the publishing and mass communication of European populations of different categories, and non-specialist librarians who have inherited Europe-related collection development and research support responsibilities at their home institutions. The Communications & Publications Committee, led by Brian Vetruba (University of Minnesota), has done an enormous amount of work in these areas with excellent results. Building on the great amount of work done by Richard Hacken (Brigham Young University) in recent years, the Committee has undertaken the transfer of the content of the now defunct SEES and WESS websites to a new ESS site specially designed to represent our new pan-European body. Huge progress has been made on both of these fronts, and much of the legacy content is already available on a beautiful new site, thanks primarily to the efforts of Deb Raftus (University of Washington). That website bears the new ESS logo designed by Lithuanian graphic designer Viktoryia Andrukovič. The Communications & Publications Committee, with Brian Vetruba at the helm, coordinated the production of multiple prototypes of the logo and the selection of the final design, with input from the ESS membership as a whole.

In 2020, ALA decided to stop supporting the Sympa mailing list manager and announced a plan to transfer all ALA-related mailing lists to the ALA Connect electronic community. Our Communications & Publications Committee undertook an in-depth consideration of the implications of this for ESS’s ESS-L list and the wider community it represents, a community that extends far beyond North America and the North American community of professional library organizations. After careful deliberation under the guidance of Chair Brian Vetruba, the Committee decided that remaining with Sympa was critical to the continued coherence of this far-flung community, and André Wenzel (University of Chicago) succeeded in negotiating hosting of the ESS-L list at their home institution — University of Chicago — where the list has now been migrated. We owe great thanks to Brian, André, and the other members of the Communications & Publications Committee for their conscientious stewardship of this vital communication structure.

Finally, of course, this ESS Newsletter issue is the product of a year of careful deliberation on the part of the Newsletter Committee, chaired jointly by Megan Bennett (Farmington Public Library, New Mexico) and Masha Stepanova (Miami University in Ohio). The Committee has worked thoughtfully over the past year to devise something that is neither the heftier journal format of the ACRL SEES Newsletter, which aimed to be a more or less comprehensive record of Slavic and East European librarianship, nor the briefer format of the WESS Newsletter, but something new for the new Section.

We also have our Membership Committee, chaired by Joanneke Elliott (University of North Carolina) and Walter Schlect (Washington University in St. Louis), and our Vendor Relations Committee, chaired by Katie Gibson and Michelle Urberg, to thank for organizing events (virtual happy hours and the vendor forum) that have helped ESS’s members and its broader community on both sides of the Atlantic to keep in touch through these challenging and isolating times. Thanks too to the many ESS members who organized the CRL-sponsored “New Shape of Sharing” series (Planning Committee Chair, Sarah Sussman, Stanford), an enormously productive cluster of virtual meetings that brought together European specialist collection development librarians, research library administrators, and vendors, for intensive discussion of the considerable challenges and potential of inter-institutional cooperative collection development in the COVID era and beyond.

In this, one hopes, anomalous year of extraordinary challenges, shifting priorities, and improvised solutions, almost all of the change that ESS has seen has been positive and constructive. One unfortunate casualty of current disruptions is the ESS De Gruyter European Librarianship Study Grant. The award cycle was suspended for the current year because the research travel the grant it is designed to support had become temporarily impossible. Then, earlier this year ACRL’s Board of Directors announced a decision to suspend all ACRL awards for 2021-22 while the Association’s award programs are reviewed and possibly overhauled. In this period of the Grant’s interruption, the sponsor — the Walter de Gruyter Foundation for Scholarship and Research — decided the time was right to reallocate the funds given for the Grant to endeavors focused on the future of scientific publishing. The Foundation emphasized the difficulty with which this decision was reached and their regret about discontinuing such a successful and worthy collaboration. In the end, they felt that fiscal constraints and other changes in the European scholarly communications landscape compelled them to make this decision. This means that Emma Popowich of the University of Manitoba, who was awarded the grant for 2020 and will make the proposed research trip as soon as that becomes possible, will be the Grant’s last recipient. We thank the Foundation enormously for their support of this grant, which has been administered annually by ESS since the Section was formed in 2017, and was jointly administered by SEES and WESS for six years before that.

Last October our incoming Chair for 2021-22 Hélène Huet and I were invited to talk about ESS, present and future, on an installment of the virtual series “At Home in the World: A Conversation on Area Studies and International Librarianship,” an installment devoted to professional organizations. As I said then, I am eagerly looking forward to Hélène’s year as Chair. She has been an extraordinarily energetic and engaged Vice Chair this year and has already started implementing some of her many insightful, ambitious, and promising projects for the Section. ESS is in for a great year next year, which I myself very much hope will culminate in an in-person reunion at ALA Annual in Washington DC in late June 2022.

Speaking of next year’s leadership, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the 2022 Nominating Committee, chaired by Tim Shipe (University of Iowa), for a job beautifully done. The excellent outcome of this year’s election was that WESS elder Brian Vetruba, who has been extraordinarily generous with his time, energy, and wisdom this year, will be our incoming Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect, Kathleen Smith (Stanford) our Secretary, and Liladhar R. Pendse (UC Berkeley) our Member-at-Large. The Nominating Committee, under the able direction of Tim Shipe, assembled an exceptional slate of candidates, any of whom the Section would have been very fortunate to have in the respective positions (in addition to the elected, Katie Gibson for Vice-Chair/Chair-Elect; Joanneke Elliot for Secretary; and André Wenzel for Member-at- Large).

Enormous thanks to all the leaders and members of ESS’s Executive Committee and all its committees and discussion groups for being such an exceptional group of generous, energetic, and brilliant colleagues and friends. I look forward to seeing you at our virtual Annual meeting in June. Our General Membership Meeting is set for June 28th 1:00-2:30 CT and our Executive Committee Meeting for June 29th 1:00-2:30 CT. Please check our new ACRL ESS Website ( in the coming weeks for registration links and the dates and times of other meetings. Note that while most or all of these meetings will take place during the ALA Annual virtual conference, registration for the conference is not required to participate in the ESS meetings.

To get more involved in the work of our committees and discussion groups (which I urge all of you to do), please be in touch with the Chairs and Conveners.

Meantime, keep well and sane. See you on the other side of this nonsense.

Thomas Keenan
ESS Chair 2020-21
Princeton University