The OstDok repository : the August 2020 Slavonic item of the month

The importance of open access (OA) publishing has been made clearer than ever during recent and ongoing physical library closures.  For some years now, the OstDok repository has provided students and scholars working on Eastern Europe with vast amounts of OA material.  OstDok is a collaborative product, with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Herder-Institut in Marburg among the main partners.  I have had the pleasure of hearing my colleague Dr Gudrun Wirtz at the Staatsbibliothek discuss OstDok at conferences and seminars in the past, but my appreciation of the work she and others have put into the resource has never been greater.

The OstDok “about us” page is available in German here.  It explains that readers can access 52,000 texts about the politics, history, and culture of Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and South-Eastern Europe.  Other pages are available in English.  Here is the basic search page, the advanced search page, and the classification page.  The last is particularly useful if you are not quite sure what to search for specifically.  A screenshot of the classification page is provided here (click to enlarge).

With current events in mind, I selected “Belarus” under “Eastern Europe” in the first column and then “Political science and political history” in the second.  Selecting “21st century” in the third provided just one result (Polska polityka wschodnia: die Außenpolitik der polnischen Regierung von 1989 bis 2004 gegenüber den östlichen Nachbarstaaten Polens (Rußland, Litauen, Weißrussland, Ukraine) by Sebastian Gerhardt, providing electronic access to a book we otherwise hold only in print), so I widened the results by selecting “20th century – second half” (9 results).

It was then interesting to use the first column only of the classification search to get a feeling for the different geographical strengths of the OstDok repository.  Here is a list, using OstDok’s geographical vocabulary, with some idea of numbers.

  • Eastern Europe overall gets 15,552 hits.
    • Eastern Europe in general: 14,735
    • USSR, CIS: 1203
    • Russia: 11,026
    • Siberia: 28
    • Ukraine: 1083
    • Belarus: 164
    • Republic of Moldova: 56
  • East Central Europe: 23,374
    • subcategories: East Central Europe in general (including Czechoslovakia), Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lusatia and South Brandenburg
    • Poland is, for the purposes of Cambridge’s Slavonic Studies programmes, the one of most interest, and it has 12,051 hits
  • Southeastern Europe: 9492
    • subcategories: Southeastern Europe in general (including Yugoslavia 1918-1991), Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia + Serbia-Montenegro + Yugoslavia 1991-2003, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Greece, Cyprus, Byzantium, Ottoman Empire + Turkey
  • North Eastern Europe: 3550
    • subcategories: North Eastern Europe in general, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland
  • Central Asia: 233
    • subcategories: Central Asia in general, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
  • Caucasus: 587
    • subcategories: Caucasus in general, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

The majority of resources are in German, but others are in local languages or English. Cambridge readers who are used to Library of Congress transliteration of Cyrillic scripts need to remember that German transliteration differs.  For example, the Russian term Новейшая история would be Noveĭshai͡a istorii͡a in LC but Novejšaja istorija in German transliteration.  Happily, however, OstDok provides the function of searching in Cyrillic and then transliterating search terms (see below).

Readers can also use the wildcard asterisk at the ends of search terms to find variations (eg Minsk* will bring results for Minsk, Minska, Minske, Minskai͡a, etc).  After a search has been started, search results can be narrowed by author/institution, language, media type, subject heading, and year of publication.

OstDok is a fine example of how an OA repository can work well, with carefully applied metadata making the catalogue easy to use and effective.  Plus, OstDok also gives readers the chance to request that the Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek digitises out-of-copyright material held in their print collections – and offers this service free of charge to researchers based in Eastern Europe.

Mel Bach

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