Overviews of the Collections
The Czech and Slovak Collections at the Library of Congress
Former Czech and Slovak Area Specialist
The Library of Congress is considered to be the best repository
of Czech and Slovak books, periodicals and other reading materials
outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The monographs and bound
periodicals relating to the culture of the Czechs and Slovaks amount
to ca. 115,000 items, with the yearly acquisitions of monographs
averaging ca. 1,500 over the last 10 years. The LC has about 2,000
Czech and Slovak periodicals, of which ca. 600 are currently received,
and more than 170 Czech and Slovak newspapers, with 14 titles currently
received. It is estimated that about 80 percent of all these materials
are in Czech or Slovak, English being the predominant language
of the rest.
While the Czech and Slovak collections in the LC are generally
good, they are especially strong for books and periodicals published
after 1945. This is due to the fact that after 1945 monographs
and periodicals published in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech and
Slovak Republics) were purchased by LC on the basis of a blanket
The period of the 1920s and 1930s (the era of the First Czechoslovak
Republic) is also well represented. Some of the holdings of works
from this period have been acquired retrospectively, with stress
being laid on volumes showing the excellent Czechoslovak craftsmanship
in book design and printing.
Another area of relative strength is Czech and Slovak exile and
Samizdat literature published during the Communist era.
The essence of Czech and Slovak history and culture, as it is reflected
in published works, is well represented in the Library of Congress.
A scholar wishing to explore the best Czech and Slovak achievements
in scholarship and spiritual life by focusing on five outstanding
figures (John Hus, Comenius, Jan Kollar, Ludovit Stur, Thomas G.
Masaryk) would find an astonishing 1,017 volumes by or about these
personalities in the LC catalog:
- John Hus, (1369-1415), the religious reformer, 222 volumes
- Comenius (1592-1670), the noted educator, 512 volumes
- Jan Kollar (1793-1852), poet, national awakener, 49 volumes
- Ludovit Stur (1815-1856), writer, national awakener, 58 volumes
- Thomas Masaryk (1850-1937), philosopher, statesman, 286 volumes
A researcher interested in literature would find the following
holdings of the six leading authors:
- Karel Capek, 285 volumes
- Jaroslav Hasek, 146 volumes
- Bozena Nemcova, 143 volumes
- Karel Hynek Macha, 93 volumes
- Jaroslav Seifert (Nobel Prize winner in 1984), 89 volumes
- Josef Skvorecky, 119 volumes
The quality of the holdings is also extraordinary. No fewer than
25 of the Comenius volumes are books published before 1800. The
Comenius collection in the LC includes nine editions of his famous Orbis
sensualium pictus, including the first American edition published
in New York in 1810. Works by Thomas G. Masaryk include the first
edition of his first book, Selbstmord als sociale Massenerscheinung (1881)
and its English translation, Suicide and the Meaning of Civilization (1970).
Both historically important and rare is a microfilmed set of the
critical and literary monthly Athenaeum published by Masaryk
in 1884-1893. Of the works by and about Karel Capek, one of the
first noted European authors of science fiction, the LC has the
first American edition (1923) of his 'fantastic melodrama' R.U.R. (Rossum's
Universal Robots) with photographs of the first American production.
Jaroslav Hasek's world-famous Good Soldier Svejk is represented
by almost 30 editions (the Czech original and translations into
several languages). There are close to 20 editions of the seminal
poem "Maj" (May) by Karel Macha which marks the beginning of modern
Czech poetry. The LC has the first edition (1836) and the 100th
edition adorned with engravings of Vaclav Masek and printed in
100 copies. The collection of the works of Jaroslav Seifert includes
the first edition of his first book of poems, Mesto v slzach (City
in Tears) (1920), and a luxury edition of the book Postovni
holub (The Carrier Pigeon) (1929). The latter was published
in 350 copies, of which the LC has Copy No. 34, signed by the author.
Czech and Slovak Literature: Special Features
During the Communist era a number of Czech and Slovak authors
left the country and, for political reasons, many others were banned
from publishing their works in Czechoslovakia. Especially in the
two decades between 1968 and 1989 important works by the exile
authors were published in several Western countries. At the same
time, silenced authors published Samizdat editions of their
writings in Czechoslovakia. Two special agreements, one with '68
Publishers' in Toronto, the other with the Czechoslovak Samizdat
Documentation Center in West Germany, ensured the acquisition of
this type of literary work, without which the LC collection of
modern Czech and Slovak literature would be incomplete.
The LC collection of exile literature is several hundred volumes
strong. Authors such as Josef Skvorecky, Milan Kundera, Arnost
Lustig and many others are represented by most of their novels
and stories written and published outside Czechoslovakia. The Samizdat
collection consists of a selection of about 500 monographic titles
and 40 periodical titles published in the 1970s and 1980s. It documents
well both the scope and the contents of 'unofficial' literature
from this period, and includes works of such important authors
as Jan Patocka, Vaclav Cerny, and Jindrich Chalupecky.
History and Politics
The LC's resources for the study of history and political developments
in the Czech Lands and Slovakia are generally very good. They cover
all periods and include a good number of English- language materials.
A recently published bibliography shows more than 5,000 items (books,
essays, articles, dissertations) written in English on the subject
of Czech and Slovak history.
are items of exceptional value in this area, including some that
are unique in the United States. For the study of Czech and Slovak
politics before the First World War (when both the Czech Lands
and Slovakia were parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) the LC
offers an excellent documentation: the almost complete stenographic
protocols of the Vienna parliament (Reichsrat) in the years
1861-1918 preserved on microfilm. The recorded proceedings include
verbatim speeches of prominent politicians. The set consists of
22O microfilm reels, and is well indexed. Related to this are the
stenographic protocols of the Bohemian Diet for the years 1868-1908
The political development of Czechoslovakia in the years 1918-1938
is documented in two microfilmed collections:
Particularly valuable information about Czech and Slovak history
and culture is stored in 19th-century periodicals, of which the
LC has long runs of some of the most prominent titles.
On the Slovak side, the LC has microfilmed copies of:
- Pestbudinske vedomosti, the first Slovak political newspaper,
published in Budapest, 1861-1865.
- Narodnie noviny, the most important Slovak newspaper
of the 19th century, 1871-1922.
- Hlas, the journal of Slovak modernists, associated with
Masaryk's "Realist" group, 1898-1904.
- Slovenske pohlady, historically important review documenting
the Slovak literary developments before the First World War.
For the Czech Lands, the LC has:
- Casopis ceskeho musea, the cultural review established
in 1827 and in the early stages edited by Frantisek Palacky,
the founder of modern Czech historiography (the LC has holdings
of this valuable review throughout the entire 19th century; they
were acquired in 1904 when the LC bought the library of the noted
Czech linguist Prof. Martin Hattala).
- The monthly Nase doba (editor T. G. Masaryk, published
- The microfilmed holdings of the German-language newspaper, Prager
Presse (1921-1938, 47 reels).
Czech-Americans and Slovak-Americans
Among the sources relating to the life of the Czech-Americans and
the Slovak-Americans are two collections of personal papers in the
custody of the Manuscript Division that offer a variety of original
- The Thomas Capek Papers, a collection of nearly 5,000 manuscripts,
letters, documents, books, and periodicals assembled over many
years by the noted Czech-American writer and activist (1861-1950).
- The Edward O. Tabor Papers, a collection of documents (about
3,000 items) connected with the activities of the Pittsburgh
lawyer prominent in Czechoslovak-American affairs from 1918 to
Especially valuable among the periodicals published by Czechs
and Slovaks in the United States is the complete run of the newspaper Slavie,
which was published in Racine and Chicago from 1861 to 1918 (18
microfilm reels). For the period during and after the First World
War two ethnic newspapers are of great interest: Denni Hlasatel,
published in Chicago (1941-1985, 166 reels) and Newyorske Listy,
published in New York (1940-1966, 47 reels).
The Rare Book Division of the LC has several Czech cultural treasures.
They include seven incunabula from the Czech Lands, one of which
is a Bible was printed in Kutna Hora in 1489. This is one of the
first Bibles printed in Czech, and the LC's copy is one of eighteen
remaining copies. Other especially rare books are a one- volume
edition of the Kralice Bible of 1596 and Jan Hus' Postilla of
The Rare Book Division also has in its custody 30 works by Comenius,
including a Czech hymnal printed in Amsterdam during his lifetime
The Rare Book collections also include about 150 volumes of modern
literature, many of them published in bibliophile editions in a
small number of copies. They are kept by the Rare Book Division
as examples of high quality Czech book design which flourished
especially in the 1920s and 1930s. This selection includes works
by such noted authors as Karel Capek, Jaroslav Seifert, Vitezslav
Nezval, Jiri Wolker, and Petr Bezruc. The illustrators and book
designers include such renowned artists as Karel Svolinsky, Vratislav
H. Brunner, Karel Capek, Adolf Kaspar.
The most valuable Czech manuscript in the custody of the Manuscript
Division is Thomas G. Masaryk's complete original handwritten copy
of his book Nova Evropa (The New Europe). The final
version of this work was written by Masaryk during his stay in
Washington in 1918, and the manuscript was donated to the LC by
Masaryk's former private secretary, Dr. Jaroslav Cisar.
More than 20 documents (letters, memoranda, statements) relating
to Masaryk's liberation movement during the First World War can
be found in the collection of the Woodrow Wilson Papers. They include
the 'Declaration of Common Aims' issued by the Mid-European Democratic
Union, an organization of representatives of the Central European
peoples, in October 1918.
Documents on the situation in Czechoslovakia after World War II
are included in the collection of Papers of Laurence A. Steinhardt,
U.S. Ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1945 to 1948.
Of great interest for the study of the history of the city of
Prague is the collection of Papers of Antonin Novotny (1891-1958),
a Czech author specializing in the history of the capital of Bohemia.
Prints and Photographs
Most valuable from the historical point of view are about 70 prints
by the 17th-century Czech artist Vaclav Hollar (1607-1677), the
creator of splendid etchings showing landscapes, cities, and portraits.
Prints and Photographs Division also houses more and Slovakia.
Among them are 6 posters by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), including
one rare item made for Sarah Bernhardt's American tour in 1896,
and 23 by the noted contemporary artist Zdenek Ziegler (born 1932).
Another poster in the custody of the Division shows the 1941 German
blueprint for the destruction of the village of Lidice.
The 14 posters by Vojtech Preissig (1873-1944), who spent a part
of his career in the United States, deserve special attention.
Most of these posters were created in support of the Czech and
Slovak resistance efforts against Austria-Hungary and Germany during
the First World War.
The LC has the first atlas with the first Czech map of Bohemia.
This is in the 1545 Muenster edition of Ptolemy's Geographia.
It also has the first independent map of Moravia (Fabricius, 1568),
which appears in Ortelius' Theatrum orbis terrarum (Antwerp,
1570), and the first Ortelius atlas with Lazius and Sambucus maps
showing Slovakia (1579).
A particularly precious item in the LC collection is Augustin
Herman's extremely rare map of Virginia and Maryland of 1670, which
was acquired in 1960. Augustin Herman was a Czech emigre who came
to America via Holland. Herman's map was entitled, "Virginia and
Maryland as it is planted and inhabited this present year 1670
surveyed and exactly drawne by the only labour & endeavor of
Augustine Herrman bohemiensis".
Music and Recorded Sound
The LC has an impressive set of scores by Bedrich Smetana, Antonin
Dvorak, Leos Janacek, Zdenek Fibich, Eugen Suchon, and other Czech
and Slovak composers. Chamber music is an area of special strength,
and is represented by several baroque and early classical figures
such as Jan Dismas Zelenka, Josef Myslivecek, Jan Stamitz, and
Jiri Benda, and, up through the modern period, Bohuslav Martinu.
Josef Myslivecek (called 'il divino Boemo') is represented by
30 titles of pieces of music, including several 18th-century manuscripts.
The Archives of World Literature on Tape has recording of a number
of Czech authors reading from their works (Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan
Klima, Arnost Lustig, Ivan Divis, and others).
LC also has two recorded sound collections relating to key political
- The CBS tapes with the network's entire coverage of the September
1939 Munich crisis.
- A set of 23 tapes of the 1952 trial of Rudolf Slansky as broadcast
by Radio Prague.
Related material on the Library of Congress web site: