The foundation of a systematic Slavic collection at Duke University dates back to the period immediately following the end of the Second World War, during a time that witnessed the birth of international and area studies in the United States. Soon after Columbia University became the first institution of higher education in the country to open a center devoted specifically to the study of the Soviet Union, Duke University hired one Columbia graduate (John Shelton Curtiss) as its first professional Russian historian (1947), and appointed another one (Thomas Wiener) as a one-man-academic department devoted exclusively to the study of Slavic languages and literatures (1958), and, thanks to Wiener’s research interests, to Central Asia as well. For more than a quarter of a century afterwards, until the appointment of Orest Pelech as Duke’s first Slavic bibliographer (1985), the faculty of these two academic departments played a direct role in the selection of crucial monographic titles and of the most important Soviet serials.
In the late 1950s, as part of an effort to maximize on its investment in Slavic studies, Duke University Library established a regular and long-standing approval plan with the Parisian-based dealer, Les Livres Etrangers, at the time one of the few authorized distributors of Soviet imprints outside of the Eastern bloc. At the same time, the library also joined the nascent Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN), a consortium of libraries then composed of Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Virginia. As part of this cooperative collection development agreement, which is still in force today, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill libraries have divided "Eastern Europe" in terms of primary collecting responsibility. UNC-Chapel Hill specialized in vernacular imprints from the former Czechoslovakia, the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, South Slavic literary history and criticism, belles-lettres, and works on 18th- and 19th-century Russian history, while Duke University Library became responsible for collecting both vernacular and non-vernacular (primarily English-language) materials on Poland, Slavic linguistics, 20th-century Russia, and (after the breakup of the USSR in 1991) some of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union (including Ukraine and Central Asia). A shared on-line catalog and a courier service make possible the delivery of most materials to any of the ten libraries of the four-university TRLN network between 2-3 days.