The microfilming of the extensive collection of Central Asian newspapers and periodicals amassed by Professor Emeritus William Fierman over many years and from across the Central Asian region is being supported by a generous grant from the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center. Including titles from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and dated mainly from the early 1980s to the present, the collection is significant both in its scope and content, much of which is missing from library catalogues and has not been microfilmed elsewhere.
William Fierman, who taught in the Departments of Central Eurasian Studies and Political Science at Indiana University and was director of the IAUNRC for over a decade, was recently presented with the Edward Allworth Lifetime Service to the Profession Award, which recognizes extraordinary lifetime achievement in the field of Central Eurasian Studies. In a recent interview with the IAUNRC, Professor Fierman attributed his habit of collecting news materials to a job he had as an undergraduate at IU working as a library assistant in the Slavic periodicals section, where his role included cataloguing each item as it arrived. Subsequently, says Fierman, this was an easy habit to maintain: “The Soviet Union would subsidize subscriptions to their press, so they were dirt cheap. You could subscribe to a daily newspaper that would be sent in hard copy to the US, each issue separately, for about $30 a year.”
Dr. Akram Habibulla, IU Librarian for Middle Eastern, Islamic, and Central Eurasian Studies, who was approached by Fierman in 2012 to assist in finding a more permanent home for the collection, says that he immediately recognized its value—particularly pertaining to issues from the early 1990s: “This was the period when the Soviet Union collapsed, and all networks were destroyed. American libraries couldn’t get anything from Central Asia because previously [newspapers and periodicals] had been centrally sent from Moscow. So the newspapers that Fierman donated are unique.”
Fierman’s archive is also notable for its size, at one point filling more than 100 boxes in his (fortunately dry) basement. “Before accepting anything we had very big discussions here [at IU] about what to do with it all because it’s hard to preserve newspapers as the paper is so fragile,” says Dr. Habibulla. A solution was presented by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), based in Chicago, whose Slavic and East European Materials Project (SEEMP) is focused mainly on acquiring and preserving regional newspapers of historical value. Habibulla continues: “We sent our first proposal to the CRL in 2013. We sent them the newspapers, they microfilmed them, and they gave us a copy of the microfilms. A second proposal was submitted in 2015. So probably 25–30 per cent of the collection has already been microfilmed, funded by the CRL.” The bulk of the archive remains to be microfilmed and, according to Habibulla, the grant from the IAUNRC will be enough to cover the rest of the project.
Now that sufficient funding is available for its completion, the microfilming of this important collection could well be finished within the next two years. The entire archive will then be accessible in the Herman B Wells Library, as well as through the CRL, and at some point in the future will likely be available also in digital format. Habibulla explains: “When the project started in 2012, the CRL only did microfilming. This is still considered the best method of preservation. I don’t think it will be difficult [to digitize the collection] in the future if we decide to do so, but this is not yet being discussed. The most important thing is to first preserve the newspapers.”