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Head of AphroditeStrengthening Modern Greek Collections

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The Modern Greek Collection at the University of Cincinnati

Jean Susorney Wellington,
Head, Classics Library

First of all, I'd like to thank the Library of Congress and CLIR for bringing us all together to discuss the very important topics of making our collections more available for use by scholars and of preserving those resources for use by future generations of scholars. Since both of these topics have been important personal professional goals, I am especially pleased to be one of the participants.

I suspect that some of you may have been surprised to see that the University of Cincinnati was participating in this conference. After the retirement in 1991 of our Modern Greek Curator, Eugenia Foster, and the realization that her position would not be filled, rumors spread as far as Europe that the collection was destined for the auction block. We even heard that it had already been sold to a prominent European library!

I want to assure you that the collection is still in Cincinnati and that there are no plans for it's removal or it's demise. What has happened is that there is no longer a Modern Greek Curator per se. Cincinnati, like so many other major universities in this country, is in a period of financial retrenchment, and Eugenia's was one of some 25/30 library positions cut in the past 8 years. Without a program in Modern Greek studies at Cincinnati, and without any indication that one would exist in the future, Eugenia's position could not be defended when key positions in cataloging and reference disappeared and libraries and services were being consolidated. However the tasks she was performing are still being performed and, in the cataloging area, have in fact been expanded. Eugenia had not been able to catalog materials for many years before her retirement, partly due to her understandable reluctance to only provide transliterated electronic records instead of cards which could be in both Greek and Roman characters. After she left there was a backlog of some 10,000 recent books, as well as a pre-1970 backlog of some thousand or so items. Cincinnati has now out-sourced Modern Greek cataloging to OCLC's Tech Pro Department, and they have virtually eliminated that backlog for us and continue to catalog all newly received Greek books.

The Modern Greek Collection is part of the Burnam Classics Library and many of Eugenia's duties have been continued by myself and by my very competent assistant Michael Braunlin. We have both been in our positions for many years, I for 29 and Mike for 23, and we know the collection very well. Most of the book selection is being done by Mike, who has graduate training in Classical Studies, knows some Modern Greek, is especially interested in the Byzantine period and is a real phil-hellene. Purchases continue at approximately the same level as under Eugenia, and we continue to spend about $15-18,000 a year on materials for the modern Greek collection. I think our coverage of modern Greek history may even have expanded, but I must admit that we have severely cut back our purchases in the field of Modern Greek literature - an area especially dear to Eugenia Foster. Neither Mike nor I (my subject master's is in ancient history) have felt competent to select modern literature, and several attempts to hire part-time help for this purpose were unsuccessful. I was at first very anxious about this since I knew so many Modern Greek Studies programs in the U.S. relied on our collection, but then I analyzed our newly cataloged titles in Modern Greek literature in the OCLC database. Only about 10% were unique to Cincinnati, and about 50% of them were also owned by Ohio State which is only 100 miles away!

At the same time the Modern Greek backlog was being eliminated, an additional backlog of some 8,000 books for the main Classics collection was also being eliminated. For several years in a row approximately 5-8,000 books were added to the Classics Library's collections each year. We quickly faced a shelving crisis. With no room to expand in our building and no on campus storage facility, we had to make the painful decision to send part of our collection to off-campus storage. Last summer we relocated 8,500 volumes of Modern Greek literature. We chose that part of the collection since it was used the least by Cincinnati based users and because I thought the bibliographic descriptions in the online catalog would in most cases be sufficient for scholars to identify titles they might need. The Modern Greek Studies Association helped us get the word out to American scholars to contact us before coming to Cincinnati, to ensure that the books they needed would be waiting for them when they arrived.

Cincinnati's collecting of Modern Greek books began in the 1930's when archaeologist Carl Blegen secured the financial support of the Classics Department's chairman William Semple and his wife Louise Taft Semple for this endeavor. For the Semples the research projects of their department became the child they never had. To this very day, the library's books and the excavations and other research endeavors of the Department are made possible by a generous grant left by Mrs. Semple. Carl Blegen began collecting materials published in Greece about Classical Antiquity, but the scope of his purchases expanded quickly to include Byzantium and all aspects of the Modern Greece which both he and his wife had come to love and consider their home. When the Farmington plan was established in 1948, Cincinnati became responsible for books currently published in Greece, with the exception of materials in law, medicine and agriculture. However those exclusions were not closely followed, especially in the area of law and to a lesser degree in agriculture.

Professor Blegen made most of his purchases in Greece, but also collected materials in Istanbul, London, Paris and New York. Every year the boxes of the "Blegen shipments" arrived until his death in 1971. Fortunately Eugenia Foster had arrived in 1970 and she and Professor Peter Topping continued the selection of new materials, but, of course, without Professor Blegen our collecting of rare old materials came to an end. After Peter Topping left for the Dumbarton Oaks Center, Eugenia became the primary selector. Both Peter Topping and Eugenia Foster had been enticed from positions at the Gennadion and the American School of Classical Studies personally by Carl Blegen, who had hoped to develop a Center for Modern Greek Studies in Cincinnati - a dream which was never realized since Peter Topping was not replaced upon his departure.

Today, the Modern Greek Collection includes approximately 45,000 volumes. The strength of the Cincinnati collection has been the breath of the coverage outside of Greece of rare 19th century materials, its collection of hard to find old serials, and the totality of its coverage of all aspects of Modern Greece -- its topography, government, history, the political and economic scene, language and literature, folklore, and more. It would be foolish for me to try to discuss some of our specialities - especially in this gathering of experts. I am no Modern Greek scholar. I consequently requested that Ms. Feder distribute to all of you copies of the detailed bibliographic essay written in 1976 by Professor and Mrs. Topping. ("University of Cincinnati: Greece" in East Central and Southeast Europe: a handbook of library and archival resources in North America / Paul L. Horecky and David H. Kraus, ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Clio Press, c. 1976, pp. 45-52.) What I would like to briefly describe to you today are the types of material which have turned up in the backlog projects OCLC has been doing for us -- materials that have just become, or soon will become, available to the world on OCLC -- a topic very apropos for this conference aimed at sharing of resources!

Among the materials which we sent to OCLC from the Blegen shipments were hundreds of pamphlets. I suspect many had been secured in Turkey because they relate to the Greek communities in Asia Minor. It's a diverse collection of what historians would label source material. It includes items such as a codification of Turkish law that pertains to non-Moslems, and constitutions from Greek societies to promote education or help widows and orphans, or just to foster fraternity. There were a dozen examples of Karamanlidika (one of which appears not to be included in either the Salaville and Dalleggio catalog of Karamanlidika or E. Balta's supplement), a few 19th century manuscripts in Ottoman Turkish and of Byzantine chant -- and a 1930s telephone directory from Thessalonike (an item quickly seized for inspection by a faculty member in our Judaic Studies Department whose special area of research is the Jews of Greece, especially the community in Salonika which was so ravaged during German occupation!)

Another collection that is now being cataloged is from Herbert P. Lansdale, Jr. which came to us as a gift in the late 1960's. Just before the Second World War he was Director General of the YMCA of Greece. He returned after the war as a member of AMAG (the American Mission for Aid to Greece) and became the Director of its Field Operations Service. Most of his books had long ago been cataloged and added to our collection, but now we are finally cataloging materials such as American and Greek propaganda pamphlets from the war and immediate post war era, mimeographed and carbon copies of the reports from the American aid mission, a 1943 mimeographed U.S./British report listing "Marconi" installations in Greece and issues of 1943/46 Greek communist and resistance newspapers. The newspapers are especially perishable and need to be microfilmed before we send them to OCLC. All of these potential treasures for historians are now going to become available for scholars around the world through OCLC.

I see two points as key to the sharing and preserving of our collections.

First of all, in order to share our resources we first need to provide bibliographic access to them. It is easy for us in the U.S. to swallow the bitter pill and accept Greek records in romanized form, but I can easily understand the reluctance of Greek libraries to accept this. Several years ago I escorted Nancy Winter, the Head Librarian at the American School of Classical Studies, to OCLC. She wanted to explore with them the possibility of OCLC developing a Greek version of CJK (which would permit parallel fields in Greek and Roman characters) for the Argos project which will link together in a union catalog the holdings of the major archaeological collections in Athens. OCLC was not interested. She also approached RLIN, and while they were somewhat more responsive, nothing was resolved. The archaeological libraries have had to go it alone with Greek developed software. While the catalog will eventually be on the Internet via their WebPage, the data will not appear in either RLIN or OCLC. I think this sort of impasse is one of the key impediments to our two countries effectively sharing our resources. I think that in this era of globalization we need to exert pressure on these two bibliographic utilities. Even if Greek libraries could get all their records into machine-readable form and on the Web, logging onto a Greek WebPage requires some computer experience to download the necessary Greek fonts convert the computer-gibberish that often comes across into actual Greek letters. We also need to provide access that permits Greeks to easily approach our data, i.e. records searchable in Greek characters. Barring this, we at least need to agree on a transliteration table. Web pages in Greek should have a button to download Greek fonts so that Greek letters will display and transliteration tables provided on American sites.

Secondly, we have to be able to make our collections available to scholars. Since we do not have a program in Modern Greek Studies, the heaviest use of our collection has been through Interlibrary Loan --- and now the OhioLINK program which links most academic institutions in the entire state of Ohio in a sort of patron-initiated "interlibrary loan" with delivery in 2-3 days of the request. Since at this time about 99% of the titles in the Modern Greek Collection are now in OCLC and only about 500 titles remain in the backlog, scholars around the world can now have easy bibliographic access to our collection. We try to honor as many ILL requests as we can, but we do have to refuse some requests based on the fragile condition of some the materials or their rarity. A few times in the past my desire to meet the research needs of scholars has unfortunately resulted in the loss of some items in the mail. Photocopying, microfilming, and now using an overhead scanning device can make such materials available; we need to be willing to take the extra step and provide this service to users so they can have access to those materials.

A last point, which I think faces all Modern Greek collections in this country, is the quest for a reliable vendor of Greek serial and monographic titles. The number of our orders that go unfilled is truly discouraging. Our Greek colleagues' recommendations regarding reliable vendors would be invaluable.

Thank you.

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  June 17, 2016
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