Elihu Burritt Library reveals a world of Polish history, culture, nostalgia and memories

August 21, 2014


SUNDAY CONVERSATIONS: Overseeing a wealth of Polish history and memories

Saturday, July 26, 2014 9:22 PM EDT

NEW BRITAIN — Enter the special collections unit at the Central Connecticut State University library and you are entering a world of Polish history, culture, nostalgia and memories.

The large collection, located on the library’s second floor, offers information on every aspect of Polish life and includes 33,000 books, 2,000 periodicals and more than 300 movies. The CCSU collection, part of the university’s Polish Studies Program, provides the largest collection of Polish history and culture than any university in the state.

The program was founded 40 years ago and every year more and more books and materials are added for the benefit of students, scholars and interested residents.

The face of the program is Renata C. Vickrey, who, along with Ewa Wolynska, helps preserve the history and keeps the collection updated.


The 51-year-old Vickrey, a native of western Poland, moved to Connecticut 25 years ago. She began working for CCSU 23 years ago as a translator and interpreter and began working in the library in 1996. Three years ago she took over as university archivist and community outreach librarian.

In her role, Vickrey is responsible for the three archival collections: the university archives; the archives related to the gay and bisexual community; and the Connecticut Polish-American archives. An Avon resident, Vickrey is also on the advisory board of the Polish Studies Program and helps bring prominent speakers and exhibits to the university and promote events.

“We have a story to tell Poles and Polish-Americans,” said Vickrey of the collection. “Polish-Americans can come here and share their rich history and culture among themselves and — more importantly — can tell others.” The books in the archives cover every aspect of Polish life. They are available to any Connecticut resident to borrow and run the gamut from the history of Poland to Polish and Polish-American churches to Polish music and art, personal memoirs and fiction and non-fiction books on Poland.

Vickrey said there is also a large number of “underground publications during and after World War II that could not be published in Poland. We also, of course, have books related to the Solidarity movement.” Vickrey said the university “constantly gets materials donated from different organizations and individuals” as well as financial donations to purchase more materials and preserve the archives.

“We feel like we are stewards of our history,” Vickrey said. “There is also a lot of New Britain history. We have hundreds of pages of material related to this history of Poles in the city and Connecticut as a whole.” Vickrey said her job is never boring because “I’m working with living history. I get to know the history of the community and why the Polish-American community evolved the way it did. I not only learn the history, but get to preserve it for the next generation.” About 300 CCSU students take advantage of the Polish Studies Program. Students, Vckrey said, take courses in history classes. In addition, she said, students who are in the Art Department, Design and Communications also take advantage of the resources in the program.

For more information on the program, Call Vickrey weekdays, at (860) 832-2085.

Vickrey recently sat down to discuss the biggest areas of growth within the program, among other issues.

Robert Storace: The Polish Studies Program began at CCSU in 1974. What are the biggest areas of growth in the past 40 years?

Renata Vickrey: The public programming has had an increased number of lectures, exhibits, movie showings and concerts. And, the digitalization of archival materials gives us greater exposure to researchers and we have increased the number of inquiries from scholars from Poland and elsewhere and also requests for content of the archival collection.

Storace: Tell us about the 40th anniversary celebration this year of the program?

Vickrey: The 40th anniversary banquet will begin at 5 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Alumni Hall. More information is forthcoming. We are inviting people who are important to Poles on a national and international level. We are also inviting government officials and representatives of the Polish government. We will also recognize people who have made great contributions to the program over the years.

Storace: What gives you the most satisfaction working for the program?

Vickrey: I am Polish and I was educated in Poland. I am very proud of who I am and I want to share the history of Poland and the rich culture of Poland, not only with my children but also with others including students, faculty members, colleagues and people who live in the community.

Storace: Tell us about the various scholarships offered by the program and how people can apply?

Vickrey: The scholarships are listed on the Polish Studies Program website (www.ccsu.edu/polishstudies). One of the scholarships is the Stanislaus A. Blejwas Memorial Scholarship. It was established in memory of the late professor Blejwas who built the Polish Studies Program.

Robert Storace can be reached at (860) 225-4601, ext. 223, or at rstorace@newbritainherald.com.