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Overviews of the Collections

The Bulgarian Collections at the Library of Congress

Angela Cannon
Reference Specialist for Russian and South Slavic

(additional resources at bottom of page)


The Library of Congress has been collecting publications from Bulgaria for over 100 years. Diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and the United States began in 1903 and shortly thereafter the Library of Congress began an exchange of official publications with Bulgarian libraries. However, even before 1903, some Bulgarian scholarly and government titles made their way into the Library via the International Exchange Service managed by the Smithsonian Institution. Publications added to the collections in the early decades of the twentieth century predominantly were government issued titles on subjects such as law, government, statistics, and trade, as well as cultural and historical materials produced by Sofia University and the Bulgarian Learned Society, the precursor to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. These early receipts also were mostly periodicals, but almost no newspapers.

Before World War II, exchanges and transfers of materials from other federal libraries were the most important methods of acquisition of Bulgarian materials, with few purchases or gifts. Large-scale exchanges and purchases began only in the late 1940s and provided not only a majority of the Bulgarian publishing output of titles of research value, but also enabled large retrospective acquisitions of materials dating back even into the nineteenth century. Gaps in journal runs were filled and newspapers began to be collected systematically, including titles from some regional cities. Strong, comprehensive collecting of scholarly and current events materials begun during the communist era continues to this day with the Library maintaining both exchanges and approval plans for Bulgarian publications and acquiring approximately 3,000 pieces per annum. The collection has grown to over 45,000 volumes, the largest in the United States, and possibly the largest outside of Bulgaria itself. It is particularly strong in the areas of history, literature, economics, law, and the political and cultural life of the Bulgarian people.

General Collections

The preponderance of Bulgarian materials in the Library of Congress is held in the general collections. Consisting of thousands of books, journals, and pamphlets, the materials cover all possible subjects with the exception of clinical medicine and technical agriculture, which are collected by the National Library of Medicine and the National Agriculture Library. The largest subject is language and literature. Represented are collected works and individual titles for all of the major Bulgarian authors and poets from all eras, as well as many works of minor writers. There are reprints of old Slavic manuscripts and the works of the Damaskini, scholars who began the transition from religious to secular writing and from using Church Slavic to native Bulgarian. The Library has most of the important dictionaries for Bulgarian such as the Academy dictionary, as well as many smaller, specialized works and historical, etymological, and bilingual dictionaries. Grammars, language textbooks, and linguistic studies are collected extensively.

The history and politics of Bulgaria and the Balkan peoples is a particular strength of the collection. Books on all aspects of Bulgarian history and politics are collected, including the works of all major publishers and contemporary scholars such as Zorka Purvanova, the current First Lady of Bulgaria and Balkan historian - Mezhdu neosushtestveniia khiuriet i neizbezhnata voina : natsionalnite dvizheniia v Evropeiska Turtsiia i mladoturskiiat rezhim 1908-1912 g. [Between the unrealized freedom and the inevitable war: national movements in European Turkey and the Young Turk regime, 1908-1912]. Holdings for the communist era are extensive including the collected works and speeches of major political figures, Todor Zhivkov, Georgi Dimitrov, and Vulku Chervenkov. All of the major historical journals are held such as Izvori za bulgarskata istoriia [Sources for Bulgarian history], Istoricheski pregled [Historical review], and Sbornik za narodni umotvoreniia i narodopis [Collection of folkore and ethnography]. Although many regional materials on history are present in the collection, it is one of the weaker areas. Even today the Library has difficulty acquiring publications from some of the regional cities in Bulgaria. Military history is another weak spot in the Bulgarian collection, with only several hundred titles in the collection.

Title page of Iz arkhivata na Naiden Gerov
Title page of Iz arkhivata na Naiden Gerov
[From the archive of Naiden Gerov].
Sofiia: Bulgarskata Akademiia
na Naukitie, 1914, Volume 2.]

The collection is rich in government publications. There are nearly complete holdings of the records of parliament Stenografski dnevnitsi na Narodno subranie [Reports of the National Assembly], Bulgarian census data, and other Bulgarian statistical materials, ranging from the main statistical almanac, Statisticheski godishnik [Statistical annual], to specialty compilations on economics, culture, and agriculture.

Bulgarski adresnik [Bulgarian addressbook]. Sofiia: A. D-vo Agentsiia Knizhnina, 1920
Bulgarski adresnik [Bulgarian addressbook].
Sofiia: A. D-vo Agentsiia "Knizhnina," 1920

The Library of Congress holds over 1700 journal titles from and about Bulgaria. Categories of note are the many series of annuals from Sofia University, almost all of the journals from the various institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, news and business magazines, magazines for women, and several important historical titles from scholarly societies such as the Bulgarsko geografsko druzhestvo [Bulgarian geographical society], Bulgarsko istorichesko druzhestvo [Bulgarian historical society], and Bulgarsko ikonomichesko druzhestvo [Bulgarian economic society]. For a complete list of journals and holdings, see Bulgarian Journals at the Library of Congress 1846-2010.

The European Reading Room maintains a collection of several hundred reference books for Bulgaria, with general encyclopedias, subject encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, language dictionaries, bibliographies, etc. Also available in the European Reading Room are most of the Bulgarian newspapers on microfilm and a pamphlet collection containing over 700 items from Bulgaria.


The Bulgarian newspaper collection consists of over 200 titles on microfilm and in print. The earliest titles in the collection are reprints of newspapers published during the National Revival era such as Bulgarskyi orel [Bulgarian eagle], from 1846, the first Bulgarian newspaper ever published, and Georgi Rakovski's Budushtnost' [Future] and his Branitel' [Defender] from 1864. Later titles were added based on the policy that LC should collect newspapers that represent different viewpoints, thus in the collection are both Svoboda [Freedom], a newspaper that supported Prime Minister Stefan Stambolov, and Svobodno slovo [Free Word], an opposition paper against Stambolov, from the 1890s. During the communist era this concept of multiple viewpoints was the basis not only for acquiring newspapers from within the country, but also for those produced by the political diaspora. Today the Library maintains subscriptions to over 20 current newspapers representing various political parties, as well as specialty subject papers such as those for humor, literature, and religion. There are also diaspora titles from the United States and Ukraine. A complete listing of LC's holdings entitled Bulgarian Newspapers at the Library of Congress shows titles, holdings, format and location of the materials.

Rare Books

The Rare Books & Special Collections Reading Room holds the crown jewel of the Bulgarian collections, the Early Bulgarian Imprint Collection, amassed by the private collector, Todor Plochev, and purchased by the Library of Congress in 1949. The collection consists of approximately 650 books and serials published between 1806-1878, the so-called National Revival era in Bulgarian history, when the Bulgarians strove to attain their political independence from the Ottoman Empire and their religious and cultural autonomy from the Greeks. Most of the books from this time period were published outside the territory of contemporary Bulgaria due to Ottoman restrictions on printing in Cyrillic. The collection has titles on a range of subjects from religion and grammar to history and literature.

Notable works in the Early Bulgarian Imprint Collection include Kyriakodromion [Sunday Book] (1806), a book of sermons written by Sofronii Vrachanski. This book is considered to be the first book published in modern Bulgarian, although its language was still reminiscent of Church Slavic. Original editions of Neofit Rilski's Bolgarska grammatika [Bulgarian grammar] (1835) and Petur Beron's Bukvar s razlichny poucheniia [Primer with various instructions] (1824), the first Bulgarian grammar and the first Bulgarian primer, are both in the collection, as are later works reflecting the development of language study in Bulgaria. Also present are first editions of literary works by Petko Slaveikov, Liuben Karavelov, and Georgi Rakovski, among others. Besides Bulgarian literature, the collection contains translations into Bulgarian of notable world authors such as Molière, Hugo, Defoe, and even Benjamin Franklin. Textbooks were a popular and necessary genre during this time period, for the Bulgarians were trying to increase literacy in the Bulgarian tongue and provide general education for the people, thus the collection contains many on geography, history, the Bulgarian language, foreign languages, and literature. An interesting example is Khristiaki Dupnichanin's Pismennik obshchepolezen na sekogo edinorodnago mi Bolgarina ot koi i de e chin i vozrast' [Letterbook of general use for each of my fellow Bulgarians of every rank and age] (1835), which instructs the reader on the proper way to write letters and invitations.

For a detailed survey of the Early Bulgarian Imprint Collection, see Bulgarian Incunabula by Charles Jelavich.

Prints and Photographs

Most of the holdings related to Bulgaria in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room are from non-Bulgarian sources such as photographic collections or albums of visitors to Bulgaria, American news service collections, or the stereograph card collection. Examples of American collections with interesting Bulgarian content are the George Grantham Bain Collection and the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection. Bain was a photojournalist, whose work includes photos shot during the Balkan Wars in the early part of the twentieth century. The Carpenters were authors of geography textbooks, and one their photo albums of a 1923 trip to Europe and the Balkans has many fascinating pictures of Bulgarian street scenes.

Photograph of King Ferdinand and His Family, Bain News Service, part of the George Grantham Bain Collection, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress
King Ferdinand and His Family

Besides photographs, the Prints & Photographs Reading Room has several uncataloged collections of Bulgarian prints and posters. There are prints by Christo, the well-known wrapping artist, which were received on Copyright deposit, as well as contemporary prints from the 1980s by leading Bulgarian printmakers. The poster collections contain posters for film, theater, music, and art exhibitions, in addition to some propaganda items. To locate images in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, search its online catalog, PPOC. Bulgarian Visual Resources at the Library of Congress has further information on materials in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room as well as visual materials in other parts of the Library.


The materials of Bulgarian interest in the Manuscript Reading Room are of American provenance such as the papers of U.S. diplomats and political figures. The most pertinent example is the collection of personal papers of Charles M. Dickinson, the first U.S. diplomatic agent to Bulgaria, who oversaw the American response to the kidnapping of an American missionary by Macedonian revolutionaries.

Geography and Maps

Bulgaria is well represented in the Geography & Map Reading Room, which has hundreds of single and set maps, as well as atlases, showing Bulgaria. All of the set maps and atlases for Bulgaria, and about half of the Bulgarian single maps, are cataloged and can be identified using the LC online catalog. Approximately three hundred Bulgarian single maps are uncataloged. These uncataloged items tend to be older materials. In addition, Bulgaria is represented in single maps showing the Balkan Peninsula, of which there are over four hundred in the Geography & Map collection, half of which are cataloged and half of which are uncataloged.

Interesting examples include an 1837 British Admiralty nautical chart with head views entitled "Gulf of Bourghaz," and an ethnographic map from 1936 depicting by color the distribution of various ethnic groups such as Muslims, Roma, Vlachs, Jews, and Germans in Bulgaria before the Liberation of 1878.

A number of rare maps in the collections depict Bulgaria, the oldest of which is a Ptolemaic map of the Balkan Peninsula, from the 1541 Vienna edition of Tabula noua Graeciae, Sclauoniae, et Bulgariae. Geographia [New Map of the Greeks, Slavs, and Bulgarians. Geography]. From the Muslim world is the Cedid atlas tercümesi [New Atlas] from 1803, an exceedingly rare atlas, published in Istanbul by the Ottoman Military Engineering School Press. It consists of twenty-four maps, one of which is a map of the Balkans showing the boundaries of where the Ottoman, Austrian, and Russian Empires met. The Balkan map is entitled "Map of the Provinces of the Ottoman Empire in Europe" and shows the divided territory of modern Bulgaria.

Map image from Die Völker des Donauraumes und der Balkanhalbinsel, produced by Generalstab des Heeres, Abteilung für Kreigskarten u. Vermessungswesen in Berlin  (1940). From the collections of the Geography & Map Reading Room, Library of Congress.
Ethnographic Map of the Balkan Penninsula (1940).


For decades foreign legal materials have been a collecting priority at the Library of Congress, and publications from Bulgaria are no exception. The Law Library has an extensive collection of Bulgarian laws, court decisions, commentaries, and a complete run of Durzhaven vestnik [Official gazette], from 1879 to the present day. The Law Library also has many books and studies on various legal topics relating to Bulgaria, recent works about Bulgaria's entry into the European Union, and long runs of legal periodicals such as Pravna misul [Legal thought], Advokatski pregled [Legal review], and Pravo [Law].

Electronic Materials

The Library of Congress has very limited electronic resources for Bulgaria in comparison to its print holdings. Digitized versions of photographs and rare books appear in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog and the World Digital Library. Although there are no full-text databases devoted to Bulgarian publications, some scholarly journals appear in the subscription database Central and East European Online Library (CEEOL)External link. Another subscription database with full-text of Bulgarian titles is ISI Emerging Markets, which has Bulgarian newspapers and news wires. Lastly, there is a small, but growing collection of CD-ROMs, mostly of statistical titles that are no longer being published in paper. The Federal Research Division has made available online its country study and country profile (searchable pdf, 140KB) for Bulgaria.

Additional Bulgarian resources at the Library of Congress

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  February 23, 2017
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