Meeting of Frontiers is a project, originally funded by the United States Congress, devoted to the theme of the exploration and settlement of the American West, the parallel exploration and settlement of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russian-American frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The project grew out of discussions in 1997‒98 between members of Congress, in particular Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, James H. Billington, the then-Librarian of Congress, and the then-directors of the National Library of Russia (Saint Petersburg), Vladimir N. Zaitsev, and the Russian State Library (Moscow), Viktor Fedorov.


Imperial Academy of Sciences, The Russian Discoveries from the Map, circa 1775, Library of Congress

The collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 had created new opportunities for American educators, scholars, and members of the general public to interact directly with their counterparts in Russia, as well as new demands in the United States for information about Russia. Nowhere was the new situation more apparent than in Alaska, where the end of the Cold War led to a revival of ethnic, religious, and economic ties going back to the Russian settlement of Alaska in the late 18th century.

The development of the Internet and the explosion of the World Wide Web in the 1990s offered a new technology for establishing contacts and exchanging information among individuals and institutions throughout the world. The Library of Congress National Digital Library Program, initiated in 1995, was one of the first large-scale efforts to use the Internet to disseminate high-quality educational and cultural content—digital versions of books, manuscripts, maps, films, photographs, and sound recordings—for use in schools and by the general public. Meeting of Frontiers was an attempt to use the technologies pioneered in the National Digital Library Program to tell the parallel and interacting stories of America's west and Russia's east through digitized images and texts of original source materials.

The Meeting of Frontiers website (https://frontiers.loc.gov) was unveiled in December 1999. It included more than 2,500 items from the rare book, manuscript, photograph, map, film, and sound recording collections of the Library of Congress. Expansions of the site took place in September 2000, January 2001, May 2001, December 2001, September 2002, and May 2003, adding many thousands of items and accompanying explanatory text.


Nikolai Nikolaevich Karazin, Painting of Siberian Cossacks Exploring New Lands, In the Album of Cossack Siberian History, 1891, Russian State Library

In November and December 1999 the Library of Congress concluded agreements with the Russian State Library and the National Library of Russia regarding their participation in the project. In May 2000, joint Library of Congress-Russian teams completed the installation of high-resolution scanning equipment, on long-term loan from the Library of Congress, at both institutions. The Library of Congress also signed a cooperative agreement with the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks, providing for the digitization of maps and photographs from its collections for inclusion in the project. The Library of Congress also accepted a generous offer from the State and University Library of Göttingen, Germany, to contribute its famous Asch Collection of Siberian materials to the project on a no-cost basis.

In April 2001, the Library of Congress and the Open Society Institute of Russia concluded an agreement to establish a cooperative regional scanning center in Novosibirsk to digitize selected collections from libraries and archives in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Under contract to the Library of Congress, the Open Society Institute funded and administered a series of four grant competitions―for Western Siberia, Central Siberia, the Russian Far East, and a catch-all competition open to all institutions that might have missed the original call for their respective region―through which institutions could nominate collections in their holdings for digitization and inclusion in the Meeting of Frontiers website. Equipment was delivered to Novosibirsk in May 2001 and scanning at regional libraries and archives began shortly thereafter.

Over the life of the cooperative arrangement between the Open Society Institute and the Library of Congress, collections were digitized at 33 libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies in twenty cities in Siberia and the Russian Far East: Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky (Sakhalin Island), Barnaul, Berdsk, Birobidzhan, Blagoveshchensk, Igarka, Kemerovo, Kolyma, Krasnoyarsk, Kyakhta (Buriat Republic), Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, Noril’sk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Tobolsk, Tomsk, Ulan-Ude, Vladivostok, and Yakutsk.


Ministry of Ways and Communication, Guide to the Great Siberian Railway, 1900, National Library of Russia

With the collections digitized at the national libraries in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and complemented by materials from the Library of Congress’s own rich holdings relating to Russia and Alaska, these materials are a rare and valuable resource for teachers, students, and members of the general public interested in the history and geography of Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Alaska; polar exploration; the indigenous peoples of Siberia and Alaska; the climate, geography, geology, flora, and fauna of Alaska, Siberia, and the polar regions; political prisoners and exiles in Siberia in the communist and tsarist eras; cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II; and many other topics. Much of the material also relates to the history of Canada, China, Japan, and other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.       

Under a supplemental appropriation from the U.S. Congress for Fiscal Year 2005, the Library of Congress also concluded agreements with and provided funding to three American institutions―the Alaska State Library in Juneau, the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum of New Bedford, Massachusetts―to digitize Alaskan and polar-related items from their collections for inclusion in the Meeting of Frontiers project.


Edwin Chapin Starks, Totems at Deserted Tlingit Village, Cape Fox, Alaska, In the Harriman Expedition Album, 1899, Library of Congress


The content, tools, and patterns of cooperation developed in the Meeting of Frontiers project subsequently made a major contribution to the World Digital Library (WDL) when it began in 2007. The National Library of Russia and the Russian State Library were among five libraries that joined with the Library of Congress and UNESCO to launch the WDL initiative.

With support from the WDL Executive Council and funding from a number of private donors, in early 2015 the WDL began a concerted effort to migrate all of the Meeting of Frontiers content into the WDL website. This included the processing of a large number of images that were digitized at institutions in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and New England, but that had not yet been made accessible online. The intention was to use the Meeting of Frontiers content to create a new thematic section in WDL outlining the history of the Russian and American frontiers, as well as covering topics relating to the Arctic and the polar regions. That effort is ongoing. Meeting of Frontiers items in the WDL can be viewed at www.wdl.org.

Referenced Items

  1. Guide to the Great Siberian Railway
  2. Totems at Deserted Tlingit Village, Cape Fox, Alaska
  3. The Russian Discoveries from the Map Published by the Imperial Academy of Saint Petersburg
  4. Painting of Siberian Cossacks Exploring New Lands