The Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies is a center for documenting and promoting the study of Georgia’s modern political history, policy, and culture. When the Richard B. Russell Foundation was established at the University of Georgia in 1970, its mission was to collect and preserve materials that document the life and career of Richard B. Russell Jr., U.S. senator from Georgia from 1933 to 1971. In the space of three decades, what began as a memorial to one of the most influential senators in modern times has evolved into a premier repository for papers of individuals and organizations. The library’s holdings document the American political system and support research in politics and policy in Georgia and the nation.
The Russell Library has been compared in importance to the presidential libraries, but it covers a broader range of subjects and a much longer period of time than most presidential collections. Its holdings demonstrate the breadth and diversity of Georgia’s political life for more than a century. Long touted as a model for congressional and legislative archives, the Russell Library is a charter member of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress. The library is the first repository to document modern politics and policy development in the Southeast, and it is still the only repository in Georgia to do so exclusively. Local, national, and international researchers use the Russell Library’s collections widely.
During the 1960s representatives of the University of Georgia Libraries corresponded with Senator Russell on several occasions about donating his papers. In 1969 a group of Russell’s friends persuaded him that a foundation should be established to document his life and career. In June 1970 the Richard B. Russell Foundation was incorporated under the laws of the state of Georgia.
Unlike the collections of some of Russell’s contemporaries, such as Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, and Carl Albert, the Russell Library never received federal appropriations. After the senator’s death in 1971, the Russell Foundation and its first chair, U.S. senator Herman E. Talmadge, raised a significant endowment to establish the library and to fund a Russell chair in history at the university. Working with the University System Board of Regents and University of Georgia officials, the foundation trustees agreed to locate the Russell Library on the ground floor of the university’s main library, with its own entrance. In 1974 the executors of the Russell estate turned over the Russell collection to the foundation, which then transferred it to the university. In June 1974 the Russell Library was finally dedicated.
Under the university libraries’ administration, the Russell Library director makes an annual report to the Russell Foundation. The university librarian, the university president, and the university system chancellor are members of the foundation’s board of trustees. The foundation remains in an advisory and limited fiscally supportive role.
Today, the Russell Library functions as a center that facilitates and encourages research, raises public awareness of the repository and its collections and services, develops academic and civic partnerships, and provides learning opportunities for the communities it serves through classes, public programs, and thematic exhibits. Its collections, focusing on those who represent, persuade, or observe the political and public policy arena, now include the papers of senators, members of the House of Representatives, state legislators, governors, federal and state judges, political appointees, journalists, the state Democratic and Republican parties, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Leadership Georgia, and the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Library holdings complement course work in history, political science, international affairs, social sciences education, sociology, law, journalism, speech communication, economics, and environmental studies. Research strengths include the U.S. Congress, national defense, foreign policy, civil rights, jurisprudence, agricultural economics and land use, public works, and public policy formation. Recently, the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies at the University of Georgia and the Russell Library forged a partnership to chronicle Georgia’s rich history in the civil rights movement.
In 2012 the Russell Library moved into a new facility, the Special Collections Libraries building. The $36 million structure encompasses more than 160,000 square feet and features large-scale exhibition galleries, a state-of-the-art conservation environment, and sufficient space for expanding programming.
In 2013 the library assumed responsibility for the Georgia Capitol Museum, which preserves and interprets the history of the state capitol building in Atlanta.