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The Slavic Section

Frederick W. Ashley

(from Chapter 34 of his History of the Library of Congress, 1897–1939 [unpublished manuscript from 1940]; extracted from the Library of Congress: a Documentary History, edited by John Y. Cole., 1987)

In 1901 all Russian literature in the Library of Congress consisted of only 569 volumes, occupying only 4 lines in that year's report of 380 pages. There was no one in the Library force at that time who could have handled this small collection, a want that was abundantly supplied in 1902 by the addition to the Library staff of Mr. Alexis Vassilyevich Babine, A.B. and A.M., a native Russian, especially versed in American library methods. He had spent six years at Cornell University of which he was a graduate. He had also served two years as librarian of the University of Indiana and three years as associate librarian of Leland Stanford University. In the fall of 1903 he went back to Russia and while there he inspected on behalf of the Library of Congress the great Yudin Library. During the winter of 1906 and 1907, having concluded, at his home near Moscow, an arrangement for the acquisition of the collection, he took charge of the packing and shipping of the books from Krasnoiarsk in Siberia to Washington.

Dr. Putnam said of it:

"The most important accession to the Library (the private library of Mr. Gennadius Vasilievich Yudin); it ranks legally as a purchase, since a sum was paid out in its acquisition. But as the sum paid scarcely exceeded a third of what the owner himself had expended in the accumulation of it over a period of thirty years, and as his chief inducement to part with it was the desire to have it render a useful public service in our National Library, I prefer to record it as primarily a gift, and it has thus been described to the public. Its importance would be obvious from its dimensions alone, for it comprises over 80,000 volumes — all relating to Russia and Siberia, and all save about 12,000 in the Russian language. So ample a collection, so well balanced, in this particular field may not exist outside of Russia. But its utility will be more apparent from a note of certain of its features submitted to me by Mr. Babine. The owner's manuscript catalogue accompanies the collection.

The collection represents the result of systematic accumulation, over a long period, by a competent bibliographer, with ample funds, and especially interested in Russian bibliography, history, and literature. Not merely, therefore, does it omit no important work of the Russian historians and critics from Tatishchev and Karamzin to Pogodin, Soloviev, Kostomarov, and Kluchevskii, but it includes among its "source material" complete sets of the Russian Annals, of the publications of historical and archaeological societies, and of the provincial commissions whose object is to collect and publish documents relating to the national history. It has, for instance, the Collections (Sbornik) of the Imperial Russian Historical Society, the Papers (Chteniia) of the Moscow Society of Russian History and Antiquities, the "Russian antiquities"(Russkaia starina), and the "Historical review" (Istoricheskii viestnik). The sixty sets of society and periodical publications alone would form a library of some six thousand volumes. It is rich in local history, ethnography and institutional history, and in the record and literature of special groups and sects. It would furnish ample material for the student of the awakening of Russia under Byzantine influence and of the later awakening under the influence of western Europe.

In pure literature the collection of texts includes the best edition of every important Russian writer. Even the fine arts (though not its specialty) are fairly represented, especially notable being a set of the Rovinski publications perhaps the most nearly complete in existence.

For most of his life Mr. Yudin had been a resident of Siberia, living at a central point upon the Trans-Siberian Railroad, but also traveling much, not merely in Asia, but throughout Europe. His opportunities were therefore unusual to secure Siberica, including Siberian imprints — a difficult field, beyond reach of the ordinary collector or institution of the Occident; and the collection abounds in evidence of his good use of these opportunities.

His great collection of autographs — said to number hundreds of thousand — is distinct, and retained by him. But the material transferred to us includes certain manuscript records of the early Russian settlements in Alaska, which, if not calculated to alter any fact or inference of history, have in themselves a curious and sentimental interest.

The collection has not yet been tested by the use of investigators. A full estimate of its resources must await such a test. The above notes, however, sufficiently indicate its possible significance to the American student of Russian history, literature, and institutions. Such a student would heretofore have found his best aid in the Library of Yale University. But the Joel Sumner Smith collection there, excellent in proportion to its dimension (it is the result of endowment), comprises but 12,000 volumes, as against the 80,000 in the Yudin.

Mr. Yudin's disposition in the transaction is so well evidenced by certain phrases in his letters to me that I append quotations of these:

Krasnoiarsk, 26 January, 1904
8 February,
"Mr. Herbert Putnam
"Librarian of Congress"

"Dear Sir:

"I had the honor to receive your letter of December 9, 1903, only on the 3d of February, 1904, N. S. It made a deep impression upon me by its great courtesy and by bringing to my mind what I knew from the printed material in my possession about the grandeur of your building and the exemplary order governing the institution under your charge, an institution where the establishment of a Russian section is contemplated. If I had sufficient financial means at my disposal and my affairs were in their former flourishing condition, I would in my declining years give my books, after a Russian custom, to one of our public institutions or present them to the Library of Congress with the sole idea of establishing closer relations between the two nations. It is to be regretted that I can not do so [i.e. make them an absolute gift] in spite of all my wishes . .

"Then, if we come to an agreement and God preserves my days, I will consider myself happy beyond expression when the Library of Congress sends me some copies of the catalogue of my collection — a collection separately kept, put in perfect order, accessible to everyone interested in Russian literature and progress . . . .

"Gennadius Yudin"

August 10/23, 1906
"To the Director of the National Library at Washington, Mr. Herbert Putnam

"Dear Sir:

"Thanks to the arrival of Mr. Babine at Krasnoiarsk, I have had at last the opportunity to learn the contents of your valued letter of August 21/September 4, 1905. This letter and your telegram of yesterday to Babine give me the hope of a possible realization of our mutual desire to make it possible for my library to be accessible to the world of science. I do not know a more honored place for it than the American National Library, and on my part shall do everything in my power to see it there.

"Accept, my dear sir, the assurance of my entire esteem and devotion.

/s/ "G. V. Yudin"

"Krasnoiarsk being in the heart of Siberia — near Lake Baikal — the question of transportation to Washington was a serious one. Over five hundred packing cases were required, which had to be made to order. The route selected was via European Russia and Germany to Hamburg. Three months were occupied with the manufacture of cases and the packing. The shipment started on February 6, and on April 6 the entire collection was safely stored in the basement of the Library building. No such expedition would have been possible without the cooperation of the Russian authorities, who, at the appeal of our Embassy, cleared the railway lines and directed that this shipment should be given right of way.

The unusual nature of the Yudin collection and the picturesqueness of its history and of the circumstances attending its acquisition have induced this somewhat lengthy mention of this most important accession of the year."

Mr. Babine left our service in 1910 to return to Russia, and Dr. Aurelio Palmieri of the Harvard Library came to assist in systematizing and perfecting the collection of Slavic literature. When his temporary engagement came to an end the position was taken by Dr. Peter A. Speek.

By that time the Slavic Section contained publications in the Russian, Polish, Bohemian, Servian, Bulgarian, and other Slavic tongues — over 100,000 volumes in all. The majority of the publications in the section were Russian, the Yudin Collection alone containing about 80,000 volumes. With the exception of the Polish, the subsections of the literature of other Slavic nations, especially of those subjugated by the Teutonic powers in the past, had not been developed, principally for the reasons that the literary expression of these peoples was restrained and the interest of other peoples in them was discouraged by their rulers.

During the last two years ending June 30, 1919, the technical work in the Yudin Collection has progressed so far that the real value of the collection has become apparent and the collection was then available to the readers and especially to the research students in the Library.

Owing to continuing unsettled conditions in the Slavic countries during 1920, there was at that time no possibility of acquiring Slavic material. Order cards for such publications have been prepared and an attempt was made to acquire Russian literature through Siberia from the Russian cooperative unions, but the attempt failed, as have similar attempts recently made. The few Slavic publications added to the Library during the year — about 400 in number — were acquired through local purchase, gifts, and official channels.

Among the most valuable gifts were:

Russian index cards and reference material of George Kennan, presented by him to the Yudin collection of the Library. The cards, about 10,000 in number, and the envelopes, of about the same number, contain bibliographical information, quotations, notes, and newspaper and magazine clippings. The index on cards was made and used by the author in writing his Siberia and the Exile System, and is mainly related to exile, prisons, and the revolutionary movements in Russia. The index on envelopes and the clippings which they contain relate to Russian affairs in general from about 1888 to 1914. The cards and envelopes are classified separately according to the subject matter in alphabetical and chronological order, and are placed in the same order in special index cases in the Yudin collection. They are now open for the use of the reading public. The whole index, representing a life work of Mr. Kennan, the foremost American authority then living on the Russia of pre-war times, appears as an encyclopedia of the conditions and affairs of the czarist Russia during the last decades before the war. The wealth of information it contains, especially that of a bibliographical character, and the fine classification arrangement made by the author himself, assisted by his wife, Mrs. Kennan, make the index highly useful for research workers on Russia in the Library, which possesses perhaps most of the sources in Russian as well as in other languages referred to in Kennan's Russian index.

Assistance in research, translation, collecting bibliographical information, etc., has been continuously rendered to Members of Congress, to the executive departments, other libraries, research workers, and readers in the Library. Various divisions of the Library also have been assisted in the treatment of Slavic literature. During the past year American academic circles have exhibited noticeable interest in the works of Russian scientific investigators, especially in the fields of biology, mathematics, arctic explorations, agriculture, and folklore.

During the year 1922 the Library acquired about 1,600 Slavic publications, including those of the Russian boundary States and autonomous Provinces.

Among the publications purchased, the most noteworthy two shipments of the scientific literature published by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Universities of Petrograd and Moscow during and since the war. Especially valuable and already much consulted is a series of volumes on the Russian natural resources, containing material collected by Russian scientific investigators and explorers during the war and revolutions. Most of the Russian literature published abroad by the Russian emigrants of various parties, including the Bolsheviki and Monarchists, has been acquired by the Library during the last year.

During the next year the Library acquired about 1,800 Slavic publications. The most noteworthy acquisition is a shipment of about 500 volumes from Moscow through a book dealer in New York. These publications are mostly of an informative character, containing reports on investigations and explorations, bibliography, statistics, decrees, treaties, etc., up to the present time. Another large order through the same agency is pending. The Library has continued to purchase publications issued by the Russian emigrants in countries outside of Russia.

Among gifts received the most valuable are the periodical publications collected by the Russian Embassy during the war and revolutions. These publications, nearly two truck loads, were presented to the Slavic section by the embassy when the latter was closed. In addition, the State and Commerce Departments have transferred to the Library their surplus and duplicate copies of Russian publications collected during the war and revolutions. The representative of the former Ukrainian Republic presented his library to the Slavic section when he closed his office in Washington.

All these publications presented and purchased serve as rich sources of information in regard to the Russian conditions, the history of the Russian part in the war, and the history of the Russian March and October revolutions and the struggle between the Bolsheviks and their opponents, including the boundary nations. Owing to the dominant position of our country at the close of the war and, therefore, to the corresponding importance of the Russian Embassy here, the representatives of every shade of Russian thought and political belief have sent to the embassy their publications.

In 1925 the number of publications in the Slavic section was increased by about 1,500 volumes. A large order for Russian publications is pending.

The Library was [sic] then purchased: A collection of Ukrainian publications of 246 titles; a complete set of a rather rare and valuable Russian artistic monthly entitled Zolotoe Runo (Golden Fleece), for 1906–1909, containing reproductions of modern Russian paintings, with comments; the following three important treatises on the history of the dynasty of Romanoffs: Gosudari iz doma Romanovykh, 1613–1913, Tri vieka (Three Centuries), published by I. D. Sytin, and Trista liet tsarstvovaniia doma Romanovykh, 1613–1913; Otechestvennaia voina, 1812, five volumes artistically illustrated; Velikaia Reforma, six volumes artistically illustrated.

During the year 1926 the collection of Slavica was increased by about 7,028 volumes and pamphlets, 138 maps, and 815 pieces of music, through purchase, transfer from the executive departments, exchange, and gift. The majority of these publications are of an informative character — official documents, reports of scientific societies, literary reviews, law, statistics, political and social sciences, etc. Available sources of Russian material are being rapidly developed, and through several large orders already placed and several pending it is hoped within the near future to augment considerably our collection of Slavica in the same general classes of material. Including the Slavic publications acquired before and since the accession of the original Yudin collection of 80,000 volumes, the present collection numbers in excess of 120,000 volumes, one of the largest outside of Russia.

Certain important changes in the personnel of the division occurred in the course of the year. Mr. Vinokouroff was transferred to the catalogue division to meet the need of shelflisting the current Russian publications. Mr. N. Rodionoff and Mr. G. Novossiltzeff have been added to our staff and since their appointment have been continuously engaged in cataloguing and classifying, chiefly the publications of the Yudin collection; in fact, it is confidently hoped that a large part of the Yudin collection will have been catalogued by the end of the coming year.

The Slavic section now (1927) administers a collection of about 128,00 volumes, chiefly issues of the press in Russia (now Union of Socialist Soviet Republics), Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, countries comprising an area of about 9,000,000 square miles, an area nearly three times larger than that of the United States, and containing in the aggregate a population of over 200,000,000 — that is, about twice that of the United States. In these Slavic countries are spoken over 100 distinct languages; in about 50 of these languages literature is being published and in some (as Great Russian, Polish, and Czechoslovakian) in comparatively large numbers, hardly less per capita than in a number of the west European countries.

Works in Great Russian constitute the greater part of the collection, but in addition there are in each of the following 25 languages an average of about 300 volumes of representative literature: Bulgarian, Czech, Cheremisian, Chuvashian, Croatian, Estonian, Finnish, Georgian (Gruzian), Hebrew, Kirgiz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Magyar (Hungarian), Montenegrin, Moravian, Polish, Rummanian, Servian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Tartar, Ukrainian, Wendic, Yakut, and White Russian.

[There is] a collection of 298 newspapers (titles) published in Russia and abroad during the Russian revolution and civil war, 1917–1920, representing various parties and creeds in the struggle during that period, beginning with the Monarchists and ending with the Communists. Two hundred and fifty-five of these files are in Russian and 43 in non-Russian languages. The latter group represent in the main the movement of the peoples of non-Russian nationality for independence during the revolution and civil wars within the former Russian Empire.

Mr. Babine now (1928) returned from Russia after 18 years absence and took charge of the collection as Chief of the Division.

Containing material exclusively in Russian and other closely related languages, the Slavic section ever since its establishment more than 20 years ago attended to its own classification, to the labeling and distribution of books shelves and to their binding. It also performed the functions of the reading room in all their details, from reference work to the issuing of books for outside use. In addition to its immediate work, the section freely gave its time to other divisions of the Library whenever its language and other service was sought. This multiplicity of functions may partly account for the fact that up to October, 1927, out of 120,000 volumes on its shelves only some 7,000 items were catalogued and classified. The rest of this collection, though mechanically accessible, could not always be readily located and its individual items put without delay in the hands of students and readers. Beginning with the month of October of the fiscal year the Slavic section has been centering its attention on meeting this difficulty. During the year 1927–28, among other material, about 10,000 volumes of recent Russian publications were briefly catalogued, classified, and properly shelved, bringing the immediately available counted total of catalogued books to 19,217 titles. This work, together with the reshelving and rearranging of portions of the original Yudin collection, and putting the Slavic section in a librarylike condition in general, constituted the chief effort of the staff during the year.

During the year 1928–29 the collections of the Slavic division were increased through gifts, exchange, transfer, and purchase by 2,839 books and 2,767 pamphlets, totaling 5,606 publications.

A number of interesting additions covering different fields came through exchanges from the New York Public Library. Notable among then was a facsimile editions of the Gospels, entitled Evangelia slavice quibus olim in regum Francorum oleo sacro inungendorum solemnibus uti solebat ecclesia Remensis, vulgo Texte du Sacre, ad exemplaris similitudinem descipsit et edidit J. B. Silvestre . . . Evangelia latine vertit eandemque interpretationem latinam e regione adjecit B. Kopitar . . . Lutetiae Parisiorum, 1843. The original parchment manuscript of the work, in Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts, was in part prepared by the monks of the Emmaus monastery, Prague, in 1395. Later it was taken by the Hussites to Constantinople and there purchased by Cardinal Charles of Lorraine who, in 1574, presented it to the Cathedral of Rheims. As a mysterious oriental manuscript, it was for years used at the coronations of the French Kings, and its Slavic origin was disclosed in France only by Peter the Great, who visited Rheims in 1717.

Mr. Babine's early service to us was interrupted by his desire to return to Russia and to devote himself there to teaching and writing — the latter with the particular purpose (which he effected in a text book) of acquainting Russian students with the history of the United States. It was while thus at his home near Moscow that he personally concluded with Mr. Yudin the acquisition in our behalf of the great Yudin collection and took charge of the packing and shipment of it from Krasnoiarsk where four years previously he had inspected it.

Caught in Russia by the war and the ensuing revolution, he with difficulty secured an exit. On succeeding, he was invited to resume work at the Library of Cornell where he remained until there was an opportunity for him in our own service, briefly in our accessions division, and later, most appropriately, as chief of our Slavic division.

Scholarly, methodic, industrious, punctilious, and versed in the necessary technique; familiar also with administration, and liking it, his professional qualifications for the post were in that field very unusual. And they were complemented by personal qualities which won great respect, and among his intimates warm affection. A peculiar uprightness of mind, character, and bearing, gave him distinction and inspired confidence and liking. With it a sensitive modesty and a loyalty always to be relied on.

He had hoped to continue for years with us but it was not long before it became apparent that his days were numbered. He died on May 10, 1930. His will dated the day before his death, after specifying a bequest of $500 to his stepmother in Russia, leaves the entire residue of his estate to the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, "for the use of the division of Slavic literature in the increase of its collections in Russian folk-lore, Russian literature, Russian political and social history, and the history of Russian fine arts." "It designates the Librarian of Congress" as executor. In amount the estate is of course inconsiderable. But the spirit and intent of the bequest have a value incalcuable."

After Mr. Babine's death, Mr. Rodinoff succeeded to the position of Chief of the Division.

During the year 1929–30 the collections of the Slavic division were increased through purchase, exchange, and transfer by 2,006 books and 4,479 pamphlets, totaling 6,485 publications.

Annual purchases of books were based on the same idea predominant in the preceding years, i.e., to answer demands on the part of the users of the division for contemporary literature, especially in the classes of belles-lettres, fine arts, and history.

During the next year the United States of America has given a very significant attention to Russian affairs and problems. The main cause of this attention was, of course, the fear of Russia's commercial competition with America; but American interest in Russia became broader in its scope, and now leads from the study of Russia's economic development to the study of other important fields of her culture, such as her belles-lettres, fine arts, and science. As a result of this interest about 30 books on Russia's economic conditions and history have been published in this country by American authors during the last 12 months, and about 25 English translations of modern Russian novels and memoirs by Russian authors have appeared at the same time. Some books in these classes scored a considerable success. The number of articles on Russia which have been printed in American periodicals during the same period is far greater. In the field of fine arts the cultivation of Russian music, dance, and drama by America was continued during the last year with unremitting intensity. Russian selections became almost integral parts of American musical and dancing programs. Russian plays translated into English drew large audiences in New York theaters. Only the study of Russian architecture, painting, and sculpture practically has not as yet attracted much interest in this country, except possibly some interest in Russian icon painting.

All this interest imposes upon the division of Slavic literature of a national library a very difficult task, with a small staff, limited funds, and inadequate shelving space to collect as many important Russian books as possible, to handle them technically in the quickest and the most practical way, and to have them ready for reference use. The task is a quite difficult one, but judging by expressions of appreciation of the division's service received from its users, the division seemingly has not failed to serve the public to their satisfaction.

In 1932 owing to the construction of the new eastern annex to the Library Building, the division was compelled to vacate its former quarters and to condense its holdings on various decks until better and larger space could be provided on the upper floors of the annex. The moving and rearrangement of more than 100,000 volumes on extremely small shelving space occupied a very considerable time of the division's staff during the year.

Another work, quite out of the common routine, was performed by the division during the year in connection with the Union List of Russian official serials held by American libraries, which was under preparation for publication in the division of documents. Since American research workers on Russia's problems become more and more interested in genuine official Russian sources of information, the importance of the list could hardly be overestimated. On the other hand, the division of Slavic literature, having a considerable number of Russian official serials, naturally was supposed to assist in the proper registration of them for the public use. So the division helped in the checking of its holdings of this kind as well as revised twice the proofs of the list for about 3,000 entries of all participating American libraries.

Mr. Rodinoff reported in 1933 that "The division has passed through one of the most difficult years of its existence, when the growing interest of the public in Russia's problems and affairs increased the demand for its reference service, already considerably handicapped by a temporary decrease of the shelving and working space (due to building operations), as well as by a great reduction in the appropriations for the purchase of new Slavic material."


The principle of "active demand" for the books from the readers, which is quite popular with libraries as a guide for new acquisitions, cannot serve the division as a basis for its proper development, because the dealers, in 9 cases out of 10, are unable to supply us with items not in the market, when a special search for them among private owners is necessary. The market in Russian books, both out of print and new, is very irregular, the stocks available for purchase are subject to quick and constant change, and delayed orders very often do not secure even recently published Russian books. In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics it is now almost an unavoidable necessity to subscribe for books before their publication, if one wishes to acquire them.

Moreover, the usual demands come to the division not for specified books, but for suggestions as to sources pertaining to some special topic in which an inquirer happens to be interested. The variety of these topics, presented to the division by its users, is great, and the scope of assistance expected by them is usually exaggerated. So we have to develop the division not by the items specified occasionally by the readers, but by the classes and categories of books which, being available in the market, answer the needs of a successful reference service.

In February 1934, the division moved to its quarters in the new east wing of the Library, an event which was undoubtedly the most important in the history of the division since 1907, when the acquisition of the famous Yudin Collection of Russian books (brought from Siberia) marked the date of its origin.

It should be noted, however, that while the division now enjoys the comforts of a more convenient working space, the increase in its shelving space, in comparison with that of its old quarters of 1927–31, does not exceed 17 per cent, and this additional space will be filled up in a few years through the normal growth of the division's Russian holdings alone. The total linear shelving space of the division is now about 3 miles and 300 yards.

During the fiscal year 1934–35 the collections of the Division were increased through exchange and purchase by 1,924 monographs of book size, 877 of pamphlet size, and 3,745 issues of periodicals, a total of 6,546 pieces of printed Slavic material. The international exchange was especially effective in supplying the Division with many important Russian periodicals and serials published in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The collection now comprises about 143,000 pieces.

During the fiscal year 1935–36 the collections of the Division were increased through exchange, purchase, and gifts by 2,045 books, 535 pamphlets, and 4,002 issues of periodicals, a total of 6,582 pieces of printed Slavic material. With 142,918 pieces collected prior to July 1, 1935, the Division therefore, had 149,500 pieces on June 30, 1936, in which number about 32,140 issues of periodicals and serials, counted by issues upon their delivery, were subsequently bound in the Library into approximately 7,320 volumes. Besides the material which is in the care of the Division of Slavic Literature, there are several thousand Slavic publications in the general classification, but there is no feasible way of determining the precise number.

During the past year 1936–37 the Slavic collection was increased by the acquisition, through exchange, purchase, transfer and gift, of 2,055 books, 2,636 issues of periodicals and 534 pamphlets, or a total of 5,225 pieces of printed material. The greater part of these accessions were new Russian publications received from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics through the International Exchange Service.

With 149,500 pieces collected prior to July 1, 1936, the Division contained 154,725 pieces on June 30, 1937. (This total includes about 39,110 issues of periodicals and serials which were tallied as individual items upon receipt but were subsequently bound into approximately 8,716 volumes.) The increase, therefore, of the holdings of the Division from the original collection of 68,000 Russian items, acquired in 1907 from Mr. Yudin, (1) can be estimated at about 86,725 items, of 126 percent. (This computation does not take into account several thousand volumes of Slavic material which have been assigned to other divisions of the Library.)

On June 30, 1938 the collection contains 160,179 pieces.

Frederick W. Ashley was the Library's Chief Assistant Librarian, 1927–1936.

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