In Memoriam

ESS Newsletter

2023, Vol 3

Retirements and In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Sandra Levy
Thomas M. Dousa

Portrait of Sandra Levy

On March 12, 2023, Sandra Levy, Associate Slavic Librarian emerita at the University of Chicago Library, departed from this life at the age of seventy-two after a courageous battle against that most cruel of diseases, ALS. With her passing, the world of Slavic librarianship has lost one of its most vibrant and beloved members. 

Sandra – Sandy to her friends – was born December 31, 1950, in Chicago and raised on the North Side of that city, the descendant of Galician Jewish immigrants who had settled there at the turn of the twentieth century. Although Galicia was her ancestral region, her primary area of interest within the Slavic world was Russia. Sandra studied Russian history at Indiana University, where she earned a M.A. in 1975; the focus of her historical studies was women’s history in early modern Muscovy. She later trained as a librarian at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she worked for the Slavic Reference Service and received her M.S.L.S. in 1989. In the same year, Sandra took a position as Associate Slavic Librarian at the University of Chicago, where she would remain until her retirement in 2019. For most of her tenure at the University of Chicago, Sandra worked closely with legendary Slavic Bibliographer June Pachuta Ferris, taking shifts on the general reference desk in addition to her Slavic-specific bibliographical duties. After June’s unexpected death in the summer of 2018, Sandra assumed the role of acting Slavic Bibliographer, deferring her own long-anticipated retirement by a year, despite the fact that her own health was starting to fail, until a suitable successor could be found. Her willingness to sacrifice a year of retirement in order to assure continuity in the provision of Slavic bibliographic services at the University of Chicago Library is eloquent testimony to her professionalism and her dedication to the field of Slavic librarianship. She retired in the late spring of 2019. 

Throughout her library career, Sandra was an active member of a number of professional associations, including the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), the 18th Century Russian Studies Association, and the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS). She was also actively involved in the organizational life of ACRL’s SEES, serving as the managing editor (1994-1995) and editor (1996-2001; 2018) of the SEES Newsletter for a number of years, as well as chair during 2001-2002. Sandra also served for a number of years as the moderator of the Slavlibs listserv, welcoming new members into the profession of Slavic librarianship and so building a sense of communitas among Slavic librarians around the world. She also contributed to the literature of Slavic librarianship, contributing an article to Russian History/Histoire Russe and book reviews to Russian Review and Slavic & East European Information Resources, as well as compiling installments of a “Selected Bibliography of Recent Publications on Slavic Librarianship and Collections in the West” for the SEES Newsletter from 2004 to 2009 and, again, from 2015 to 2018. 

Sandra was an excellent librarian and a measure of the respect in which she was held by her colleagues is the fact that she was the recipient of a Festschrift in 2021. However, a bare enumeration of her professional accomplishments cannot begin to do justice to the richness and vibrancy of her personality. Sandra was a kind and humane person with a luminous smile and a knack for putting people immediately at ease. She was a conscientious and caring friend, and a good listener. She was also a sterling conversationalist, who loved to talk about her many interests outside of librarianship, which included, inter alia, science fiction literature (she was a regular attendee of science fiction conventions or “cons”, as she called them), movies, ballet, and travel. Most of all, she was a person who knew who she was and what she stood for. In the final years of her life, Sandra valiantly fought the good fight against an insidious wasting disease that slowly robbed her of her ability to move. Despite this dire affliction, she maintained her good humor, her capacity to smile, her interest in the world around her, her connections to friends, and her appreciation for the good things in life to the end. Her memory is, indeed, a blessing to all those who knew her.

Thomas M. Dousa
Metadata Analyst Librarian
The University of Chicago Library