February 10, 2018

My paper with Paul Dower, Evgeny Finkel, and Steve Nafziger on "Collective Action and Representation in Autocracies" is out in the most recent issue of the APSR. It's the latest installment in a project on reform and rebellion in Imperial Russia that, for me, never would have happened had I not ventured into the library stacks during my first year at UW. I have long since forgotten what I was looking for, but I clearly remember what I found: a multi-volume chronicle of peasant unrest in 19th-century Russia, compiled by Soviet historians working during the Khrushchev Thaw.

I immediately understood the value of this chronicle as a data source, but it took some time to identify questions that the data could answer. Eventually, and in collaboration with an amazing group of coauthors that also includes Tricia Olsen and Dmitrii Kofanov, those questions came to me. Since then I have enjoyed a very productive period exploiting this completely unexpected data source. I tell audiences: If you like this paper, then the moral of the story is that you should get your own books from the library. (And if you don't, then send a graduate student to get them for you.)

Imagine my dismay, then, to discover that a library master plan is circulating at UW that would move a majority of campus collections to a closed-stack facility in neighboring Verona. The plan promises quick delivery of anything that might be located off campus, but that presumes that one knows what to order. I had no idea that the Soviet chronicle existed. Even had I seen it in the catalog, I would not have known that it contained thousands of detailed entries of peasant unrest, such as this account of resistance to brutal treatment by an estate steward:

The library master plan notes that fewer and fewer volumes are being checked out from the library. To which I say: The best way to accelerate that trend is to move books off campus so that nobody knows that they exist.

I have worked in libraries, in Russia, with rapid delivery but limited access to the stacks. I was always glad to be home. I hate to think that one of the distinguishing features of the American university could be lost here.

Anyway, the story is not over, the battle not yet lost. A petition circulates; faculty and graduate students (especially in the humanities) are raising a hue and cry. One friend suggests that we all check out a hundred books, of varying levels of obscurity, to signal our concern and to scramble any algorithm intended to determine which volumes should remain on campus. That might work--and even if it doesn't, those obscure books may provoke some good research projects.