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Overviews of the Collections

The Russian Collections at the Library of Congress

Harold M. Leich
Russian Area Specialist


General Characteristics and Development

The Library of Congress currently holds about 700,000 physical volumes (books, sets, continuations, and bound periodicals) in Russian, and approximately the same number of volumes in other languages of the former USSR and volumes in Western languages about Russia and the former Soviet Union. There are also significant collections of other non-book print materials (music scores, newspapers, microforms and cartographic materials) and non-print materials (sound recordings, motion pictures, manuscripts, photographs, and posters), although statistics on these categories of holdings are less readily available.

LC's Russian collection is by far the largest and most comprehensive outside Russia itself, even though by policy current collecting over the past fifty years was and remains highly selective, designed to bring in only the most useful and scholarly publications from and about Russia. Moreover, because of decades of communist censorship, political manipulation, appallingly poor storage conditions, and neglect of libraries in Russia, and because of LC's automation and preservation programs and the number of staff members involved in building, servicing, and interpreting the Russian collections, it is highly likely that the Library of Congress is the best single repository on earth in which to conduct research on Russia using published sources.

Due to the existence of separate American national libraries for agriculture and medicine, the Library of Congress does not collect in the fields of clinical medicine or technical agriculture (LC does, however, collect Russian materials on the history, philosophy, economics, and social aspects of agriculture and medicine).

Archangel Gabriel (Novgorod School ,12th Century)Categories of print materials collected on a very limited basis or not at all include: textbooks at any educational level; children's literature; translations into languages other than English; offprints, preprints, pamphlets and ephemeral materials; reprints and unrevised subsequent editions; or popular or propagandistic literature (except as needed for reference purposes or scholarly research). While the Library collects very comprehensively in literary history, criticism, and biography, belles lettres are traditionally acquired very selectively. As a general rule, the Russian print collections are strongest in the humanities and social sciences, with special and deliberate strengths in language, literature, history, geography, political science, the arts, and economics. Reference materials in all subjects, but particularly those in the social sciences and humanities, are collected as comprehensively as possible.

In addition to materials published in Russia and the former Soviet Union, the LC collections are very strong in emigre Russian language publications (produced in the major publishing centers of Western Europe, North America, and Israel by the several waves of emigration from Russia) and in English- and other Western-language materials about Russia, much of it received on a comprehensive basis for the past 120 years as a result of American copyright deposit laws or extensive blanket orders and approval plans for the Western European countries. The print collections in the hard sciences and technology are much more selective and designed to represent the best of scientific scholarship as published in the monographic and serial literature. The non-print collections (and particularly collections of unique, as opposed to mass-produced, items) are, in contrast to the print collections, highly focused and very selective. Manuscripts and archival materials in Russian or relating to Russia, for example, are accepted by the Library only if they have a strong American connection. There are major and often unique collections of Soviet- era posters, prerevolutionary sound recordings, silent motion pictures, news documentaries from the late 1980s, and early 20th century color photographs -- but in general Russian materials are not the high points of the audio-visual collections, nor have Russian materials in these media traditionally been collected at the comprehensive, across-the-board level of intensity that is typical for American materials.

The major impetus for the development of a major Russian collection at the Library of Congress was the purchase in 1906 of the Yudin Collection, a private collection of almost 100,000 volumes assembled over a long lifetime by Gennadii Vasil'evich Yudin of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and at that time the largest private library in Russia. When attempts to sell his library within the Russian Empire failed, Yudin sold his collection to the Library of Congress, where it formed the core of the current Russian collection. Subsequent systematic collecting of current Russian print materials since then, particularly comprehensive since the Cold War years beginning in the 1950s, have in a sense updated and filled in Yudin's collection.

At the present time, the Library maintains scores of acquisitions arrangements for current and retrospective collection-building, including materials exchanges with Russian libraries; approval plans, blanket orders, and firm orders with book dealers; periodical subscriptions; receipt of materials on copyright deposit and as gifts from institutions and individuals; and an acquisitions operation in downtown Moscow designed to "fill in the cracks" of the other acquisitions methods.

Because of the large size of the Russian collections at the Library of Congress, no comprehensive or detailed narrative survey or evaluation of these holdings has ever been produced. Individual items are of course listed in the Library's extensive published book catalogs (National Union Catalog; Slavic Cyrillic Union Catalog; et al.), available at major libraries worldwide; and via the computerized bibliographic networks, databases, and utilities (OCLC, RLIN, WLN, UTLAS, et al.), likewise accessible at the world's principal libraries and research centers. The best single published guide to the Library's Russian holdings issued to date is the Wilson Center's Scholars' Guide to Washington, D.C. for Russian, Central Eurasian, and Baltic Studies (3d. ed. Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994). There are published (and often quite detailed) catalogs for several of the Library's special Russian collections, for example the 18th century imprints; Soviet-era periodicals and other serials; the Soviet Independent Press Collection; and the Prokudin-Gorskii Photograph Collection.

The following brief descriptions highlight the major Russian holdings at the Library of Congress. Several Library units have not been included because their Russian holdings are minor or non- existent. However, researchers with cross-area or multi- disciplinary interests may wish to contact these divisions for further information on their Russian-related holdings and services: Asian Division; Children's Literature Center; American Folklife Center; Main Reading Room; Hispanic Division.

Survey of Print Materials by Custodial Unit

The General Collections

"General Collections" is the term used at the Library of Congress for the "main stacks," housed in the Jefferson and Adams Buildings. The General Collections, under the custody and care of the Collections Management Division, contain by default all post-1800 books and serials (including bound journals and periodicals, but excluding bound newspapers) not in the custody of another division or unit of the Library. Materials are shelved alpha-numerically by LC call number in one overall sequence, A through Z, and there are no separate or special collections, even for special "named" collections such as the Yudin Collection. Because the Library receives many important reference and other works in multiple copies, very often the general collections will contain copies of materials duplicating the holdings of other divisions and reading rooms.

The General Collections contain over ninety percent of the Russian book collections at the Library, including a large majority of the volumes from the Yudin Collection. Because of the comprehensiveness of the Library's acquisitions programs (given the limitations and exclusions listed above), the General Collections represent an unusually complete and comprehensive resource for reference and research about Russia. Particularly noteworthy are the complete (or virtually complete) runs of serials, from the early 19th century through the present day, including all the major scholarly society and university "transaction" series, source publication, and literary series. Because the Library has maintained materials exchanges with all the major Russian and Soviet academies of sciences and universities, academic and scholarly publications are well represented in the collections and may well be virtually complete.

The largest blocks of Russian materials occur in the classes DK (Russian history, description, geography, ethnography, and archeology); PG (Russian language and literature); H (economics, sociology, anthropology); Z (bibliography; library and archival science); and A (general periodicals and society publications).

European Division

The European Division maintains custody over a relatively small quantity of material that is nonetheless of critical importance for Russian research. In addition to current (past 2 years) newspapers and periodicals in Russian, the division houses the Independent Soviet Press Collection of over 3,000 independent newspapers and serials from the perestroika/glasnost' period, 1987-1992. The division's reference collection for Russia contains both the "old standards" (encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographical sources, national bibliographies, subject and personal bibliographies, and general surveys) and new reference books on non-traditional topics such as joint ventures, military conversion, the development of parliamentary democracy in Russia, and other topics of very current interest. One of the most noteworthy collections is the Revelations from the Russian Archives exhibit documents, a collection in photocopy of approximately 600 archival documents from the KGB, Communist Party, Central Committee, Presidential, Kremlin, Foreign Ministry, and other formerly secret Soviet archives. The items, the first ever to be released from the formerly secret archives, were on display at the Library during the Bush-Yeltsin summit in June 1992, and the European Division maintains service copies of all the textual documents included, plus a number of additional Party Archive documents received from other sources (for example, a rare first draft of the Supreme Soviet commission investigating the August 1991 coup attempt). Finally, the division maintains custody of a number of arrearages of interesting retrospective materials (much of this material is now in the process of being cataloged and microfilmed), including early Soviet (1917-1935) periodicals and government serials; pamphlets (including approximately one thousand published before 1865); and Soviet and emigre period monographs that are not found at other American libraries.

Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The division has a number of Russian treasures, including all the Library's pre-1800 Russian imprints and approximately 4,000 volumes from the Yudin Collection (i.e. all those volumes considered exceptionally rare and/or needing special protection). The first "Russian" books are in the collections -- Ivan Fedorov's Apostol (1564) and his complete ("Ostrog") Bible of 1580. The collection of 18th century Russian imprints, most of them received with the purchase of the Yudin Collection, is particularly strong and noteworthy and is by far the largest such collection outside Russia. The Division also maintains Yudin's original handwritten card catalog for his own collection, sold to the Library in 1906.

The Imperial Palaces Collection, purchased by the Library in several lots in the late 1920s and early 1930s, consists of many thousands of volumes presented to the families of tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II and formerly kept in libraries of the palaces in St. Petersburg and environs. Many of the volumes bear the bookplates and inscriptions of members of the family of Nicholas II. The books were sold by the Soviet government to raise hard currency for industrialization.

Serials and Government Publications Division

This division maintains current issues of Western-language newspapers and journals. It also houses the back runs on microfilm of all newspapers, including those in Russian and from Russia. The division has thus over two hundred major runs in microform of Russian-language newspapers. While the Library prefers to convert newsprint to microfilm for preservation purposes, in a few exceptional cases the original newsprint issues are preserved. A number of such, in large bound volumes, are in the custody of the division. A particularly interesting treasure of the division are the 1917-1920 issues of the papers Pravda and Izvestiia, which have just recently been restored by the Conservation Department.

Music Division

The Music Division houses three categories of Russian materials: books and journals about music (the musicology collection); music scores and other printed music; and Russian musical manuscripts and manuscript collections. All books on Russian music history, criticism, and biography (the "M" class) are housed in the Music Division, as are musical scores, holdings of which are especially comprehensive and represent all major, and many lesser-known, Russian composers for both pre-revolutionary and Soviet periods. The real treasures of the Music Division are its archival collections, the most prominent of which are the Rachmaninoff Archives (searchable pdf; 37.5 KB), the Serge Koussevitzky Music Collection, the Diaghilev & Lifar Collection, the Lopatnikov Collection, and a number of others. These collections contain manuscript scores, notes, diaries, as well as some photographs and published materials. A number of these manuscript collections have been acquired in the past ten years or so and are currently being processed. In addition to the archival collections of a number of prominent and important Russian composers, the division holds a small number of interesting medieval Old Believer musical and liturgical manuscripts (irmologia, oktoikhi, etc.).

Law Library

The Law Library houses strong collections of Russian law materials from both the prerevolutionary and Soviet periods. All legal materials and items about law are by default under the custody of the Law Library (including all "K" class items). The collections emphasize primary published sources such as constitutions, individual laws, collections of laws, promulgations, regulations, and directives, such as the Polnoe sobranie zakonov (for the prerevolutionary period) and the Svod zakonov SSSR (Soviet period). Historical and critical works on law and legal history and systems are also collected. Relevant materials from the Yudin and Imperial Palaces Collections are in the custody of the Law Library. A number of other rarities in the Library's Rare Book Collection include all pre-1800 imprints, for example the 1649 edition (emended in manuscript by its first owner to reflect later changes) of tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich's Ulozhenie, the first Russian published law code; and a copy of the rare 1651 edition of Patriarch Nikon's Kormchaia kniga, a compilation of Orthodox doctrines and practices that was instrumental in the Old Believer schism in the Russian Orthodox Church. The only significant collection of manuscript materials in the Law Library is a collection of 17th century gramoty or legal charters.

Science and Technology Division

This division houses primarily reference materials, the bulk of scientific and technical books and journals being in the General Collections (the "main stacks" of the Library of Congress). The division has custody of a comprehensive collection of Soviet standards (GOSTy) and patents. A number of ephemeral materials, primarily pre-prints, offprints, and reprints, from the 1960s through the early 1990s, are also maintained.

African & Middle Eastern Division

The Division maintains custody of materials in, among others, the Turkic and Finno-Ugrian languages of the Russian Federation, for example Tatar, Bashkir, Yakut, Mari, and Udmurt. The Division collects only print materials (books, journals, and newspapers). The major holdings are in the languages of the Transcaucasian and Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union (Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Tajik, et al.). There are interesting and very rare books, journals, and pamphlets from the early Soviet period when these languages were written in the Arabic or Roman scripts. In addition, the Division's rare book collection contains several early 19th century Islamic items published in Kazan', which of course remains a major center of publishing in both Russian and Tatar.

Survey of Microform Materials:

Microform Reading Room

The Microform Reading Room has many thousands of volume equivalents of Russian print materials (books and journals). Many of these are the result of LC's own preservation programs, whereby deteriorating materials from the General Collections or other custodial units are microfilmed to preserve the contents. A number of long and complete runs of serials have been preserved in this fashion (e.g. the important historical journal Istoricheskii viestnik).

The reading room houses an excellent collection of the most important commercially-published microform projects and sets, such as the Inter-Documentation Company's microfiches of the Russian holdings (primarily serials) at the Helsinki University Library; the Russian History and Culture series issued by University Microfilms; and the Russian Revolutionary Literature series published by Research Publications, Inc.

Current newspapers on microfilm are housed in the Serial and Government Publication Division (see above).

Manuscript Division

By policy, the Manuscript Division collects only materials related to the United States and to American political, cultural, and social events, movements, and personalities. That said, there are significant Russian-related holdings in the division's custody, primarily due to the large number of prominent American statesmen and cultural figures who have had Russian contacts.

The largest Russian collection in the division is the Alaskan Church Archive, containing the records of the Alaskan Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church from the 18th century through the 1940s. Given the significant number of American political and governmental figures active in relations with Russia, there are numerous collections with unique materials on Russia (e.g., the collections of Joseph Davies, Henry Morgenthau, and Averell Harriman). Collections of Russians' papers are less well represented in the division's holdings but include the papers of Vladimir Nabokov, the archive of the Pushkin Society of America, and the correspondence to the editor of the emigre journal Vozdushnye puti.

Because of the existence for many years of the Foreign Archive Copying Program, many documents relating to America and the United States have been copied (either by hand or photographically) from foreign originals and placed in the Manuscript Division. From Russian repositories there are copies of relevant documents from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Justice, the Navy, the Russian-American Company, and the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg. Contrary to some published reports, the large quantity of manuscripts and archival materials in the Yudin Collection remained in Russia at the time Yudin sold his library to LC (the exact fate of much of this material during the Soviet era, incidentally, remains a mystery). The Manuscript Division does, however, maintain a collection relating to the purchase of the Yudin Collection in 1906 including interesting documents from the pre-purchase negotiations between the Library and Yudin and internal LC memos on the pros and cons of the purchase.

There are also manuscript and archival materials in the Law Library and the Music Division. Please see the relevant descriptions above.

Survey of Cartographic Materials:

Geography and Map Division

The Geography and Map Division maintains custody of atlases and sheet maps, and houses the largest collection of maps in the world. Particularly for the Soviet period, the division's collections are very comprehensive in topographic, geological, and topical maps of the former Soviet Union (most of them published by the Soviet cartographic agency, GUGK). The division maintains custody of the substantial number of prerevolutionary maps that were acquired in 1906 with the purchase of the Yudin Collection.

Because of the strength of the division's holdings in medieval and early modern Western European maps and atlases ("ptolemys," "portolans," et al.), both manuscript and published, researchers have access to early Western views of Russia.

Survey of Audio-Visual Materials:

Prints and Photographs Division

The Division maintains custody of individual still photographs and photograph collections; posters (whether mass-produced or original); and fine prints. Russian materials are heavily represented in the first two categories. The major photographic collection, with about 2,700 items, is that of Sergei Prokudin- Gorskii, containing some of the first color photographs ever made. The photographs are of Prokudin-Gorskii's travels around the Russian Empire in the 1910-1915 period (some of these travels were at the behest of the tsar), and include spectacular shots of rural Russia and Central Asia, and of a number of churches and monasteries destroyed during the Soviet era. The stereograph collection of black and white stills, dating to the turn of the 20th century and received on copyright deposit, has numerous shots of Russian cities and towns -- many of the shots now noteworthy because of the wholesale destruction of churches and monasteries in the Soviet period. The division also maintains a "geographic" collection of individual photographs (of varying provenance) documenting specific localities in Russia and Russian America.

The division's collection of published Russian posters is overall very strong and best for the periods 1917-1923, 1941-1945, and after 1980. Special purchases and the further development of exchange relations with Russian libraries has greatly enhanced the poster collections during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A special purchase in 1992 was the Dzhangir Agaev collection of street poster art, numbering about 500 items. Agaev has been for a number of years the premiere political cartoon artist in Russia, and the collection purchased by LC comprises the posters he drew to document the rapidly-changing political and social scene in the perestroika period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The posters acquired by LC are the actual ones that were displayed in cases on Moscow streets during meetings of the Supreme Soviet and Congress of Peoples' Deputies.

Motion Picture, Broadcast, and Recorded Sound Division

The division has custody of motion pictures; sound recordings; and videos of television broadcasts. Russian materials are well represented in all three categories of materials. For motion pictures, the division has recently acquired a comprehensive collection of pre-revolutionary Russian silent films, complementing the division's existing collection of early Soviet films.

In the area of broadcast materials, the division's systematic holdings begin in the mid-1970s and include videotapes of television news and documentaries. Two principle sources are used for this collection, which is still being actively built up: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's video footage of Russian television broadcasts; and the U.S. Naval Academy's tapes of Russian television, including not only news broadcasts but feature documentaries and selected regular and special programs.

Sound recordings, primarily of music, are collected comprehensively; the period best covered is that following World War II. This collection of course includes not just Russian music but Russian (or Soviet) recordings of all the musical classics. Particularly noteworthy for the prerevolutionary period is the recently-acquired Berger Collection of Russian sound recordings, a large collection on 78 rpm disc of Russian and other music recorded in the 1900-1913 period in St. Petersburg.

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  August 6, 2014
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