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Overviews of the Collections

The Czech and Slovak Collections at the Library of Congress

George Kovtun
Former Czech and Slovak Area Specialist

General Collections

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 some 115,000 items, with the yearly acquisitions of monographs averaging about 1,500 over the last 10 years. The Library has about 2,000 Czech and Slovak periodicals, of which about 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 Library 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 the Library on the basis of a blanket order.

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, Ján Kollár, Ĺudovít Štúr, Thomas G. Masaryk) would find an astonishing 1,017 volumes by or about these personalities in the LC catalog: 

  • John (Jan) Hus, (1369-1415), the religious reformer, 222 volumes
  • Comenius (1592-1670), the noted educator, 512 volumes
  • Ján Kollár (1793-1852), poet, national awakener, 49 volumes
  • Ĺudovít Štúr (1815-56), writer, national awakener, 58 volumes
  • Thomas (Tomáš) G. Masaryk (1850-1937), philosopher, statesman, 286 volumes

A researcher interested in literature would find the following holdings of the six leading authors:

  • Karel Čapek, 285 volumes
  • Jaroslav Hašek, 146 volumes
  • Božena Němcová, 143 volumes
  • Karel Hynek Mácha, 93 volumes
  • Jaroslav Seifert (Nobel Prize winner in 1984), 89 volumes
  • Josef Škvorecký, 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 Library of Congress 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 1884-93. Of the works by and about Karel Čapek, one of the first noted European authors of science fiction, the Library 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 Hašek's world-famous Good Soldier Švejk is represented by almost 30 editions (the Czech original and translations into several languages). There are close to 20 editions of the seminal poem "Máj" (May) by Karel Mácha which marks the beginning of modern Czech poetry. The Library has the first edition (1836) and the 100th edition adorned with engravings of Václav Mašek and printed in 100 copies. The collection of the works of Jaroslav Seifert includes the first edition of his first book of poems, Město v slzách (City in Tears) (1920), and a luxury edition of the book Poštovní holub (The Carrier Pigeon) (1929). The latter was published in 350 copies, of which the Library 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 exiled 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 Library's collection of modern Czech and Slovak literature would be incomplete.

The Library's collection of exile literature is several hundred volumes strong. Authors such as Josef Škvorecký, Milan Kundera, Arnošt 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 Patočka, Václav Černý, and Jindřich Chalupecký.

History and Politics

The Library'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.

WWI Poster -- Vojtech PreissigThere 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 World War I (when both the Czech Lands and Slovakia were parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the Library offers 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 220 microfilm reels, and is well indexed. Related to this are the stenographic protocols of the Bohemian Diet for the years 1868-1908 (20 reels).

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 Library has long runs of some of the most prominent titles.

On the Slovak side, the Library has microfilmed copies of:

  • Pešťbudínske vedomosti, the first Slovak political newspaper, published in Budapest, 1861-65.
  • Národnie 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.
  • Slovenské pohľady, historically important review documenting Slovak literary developments before World War I.

For the Czech Lands, the Library has:

  • Časopis Musea království Českého, the cultural review established in 1827 and in the early stages edited by František Palacký, the founder of modern Czech historiography (the Library has holdings of this valuable review throughout the entire 19th century; they were acquired in 1904 when the Library bought the library of the noted Czech linguist Prof. Martin Hattala).
  • The monthly Naše doba (editor T. G. Masaryk, published 1893-1938).
  • The microfilmed holdings of the German-language newspaper, Prager Presse (1921-38, 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 materials:
  • 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 1948.
  • The Jan Papánek Papers, a collection of 3,400 letters, reports, speeches, photographs, etc., pertaining primarily to the democratic Czechoslovak government-in-exile during World War II and the immediate postwar years.

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 World War I, two ethnic newspapers are of great interest: Denní hlasatel, published in Chicago (1941-85, 166 reels) and Newyorské listy, published in New York (1940-66, 47 reels).

Rare Books

The Rare Book Division of the Library has several Czech cultural treasures. They include seven incunabula from the Czech Lands, one of which is a Bible that was printed in Kutná Hora in 1489. This is one of the first Bibles printed in Czech, and the Library's copy is one of 18 remaining copies. Other especially rare books are a one-volume edition of the Kralice Bible of 1596 and Jan Hus' Postilla of 1563.

The Rare Book Division also has in its custody 30 works by Comenius, including a Czech hymnal printed in Amsterdam during his lifetime in 1659.

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 Čapek, Jaroslav Seifert, Vítězslav Nezval, Jiří Wolker, and Petr Bezruč. The illustrators and book designers include such renowned artists as Karel Svolinský, Vratislav H. Brunner, Karel Čapek, and Adolf Kašpar.


The most valuable Czech manuscript in the custody of the Manuscript Division is Thomas G. Masaryk's complete original handwritten copy of his book Nová 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 Library by Masaryk's former private secretary, Dr. Jaroslav Císař.

More than 20 documents (letters, memoranda, statements) relating to Masaryk's liberation movement during World War I 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 Antonín Novotný (1891-1978), 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 Václav Hollar (1607-77), the creator of splendid etchings showing landscapes, cities, and portraits.

Boar, Mastiff, Thistle -- Wenceslaus Hollar (17th century)The Prints and Photographs Division also houses six 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 Zdeněk 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 Vojtěch 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 World War I.


The Library 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 Library's 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 Library has an impressive set of scores by Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Leoš Janáček, Zdeněk Fibich, Eugen Suchoň, and other Czech and Slovak composers. Chamber music is represented by several baroque and early classical figures such as Jan Dismas Zelenka, Josef Mysliveček, Jan Stamitz, and Jiří Benda, and, up through the modern period, Bohuslav Martinů.

Josef Mysliveček (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 recordings of a number of Czech authors reading from their works (Bohumil Hrabal, Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Lustig, Ivan Diviš, and others).

The Library also has two recorded sound collections relating to key political events:

  • The NBC Radio Collection contains the network’s entire coverage of the September 1938 Munich crisis. (A list of the broadcasts can be found by searching, SONIC, the Recorded Sound Research Center's online catalog. Search the catalog's "News Only Broadcast Search" page, using the terms '1938' and 'Munich'. To listen, these recordings must be requested advance. Please contact RSRC at [email protected])
  • A set of 23 tapes of the 1952 trial of Rudolf Slánský as broadcast by Radio Prague.

Related material on the Library of Congress web site:

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  June 17, 2019
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