Guide to the Research Collections



Slavonic Division holdings number 166,700 volumes. The division collects in fourteen Indo-European languages, two of which, Latvian and Lithuanian, are not Slavic but Baltic. The other languages include Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Old Church Slavonic (which survives only in liturgical use), Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Lusatian (the language of the remaining Slavs in Germany). In addition the collections hold materials in some non-Indo-European languages of the Soviet Union, such as Uzbek, Yakut, Chuvash, and Finno-Ugric. Geographically the division covers a vast area, including Balkan and Eastern European territory, as well as most of the USSR; practically every aspect of life in the nations within this area, including their literature, is represented in the division's resources. The term Balto-Slavic more exactly describes this division of the Research Libraries, but Slavonic has been traditionally applied and is used here.

Specifically the Slavonic Division collections include: (1) Works in any Balto-Slavic language on all subjects (except works on Jews, Music, and American Indians); and public documents in Cyrillic characters that is, Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Macedonian (other Balto-Slavic public documents are housed in the Economic and Public Affairs Division or in the appropriate subject divisions of the library); (2) All translations from Balto-Slavic belles-lettres; and (3) All works in any non-Balto-Slavic language on Balto-Slavic linguistics or belles-lettres. All other works on Balto-Slavic subjects, such as history, economics, or the arts in non-Balto-Slavic languages, are placed in the appropriate subject division.

This deceptively simple tabulation of the type of material to be found in the Slavonic Division bears close analysis. It can be seen, as an example, that the library's rich collection of materials on Russian history in western languages will not be shelved in the Slavonic Division, although cards for the material will be found in the division's card catalog. Materials on Russian history in the Cyrillic alphabet are housed in the Slavonic Division and represented in the division's catalog, but not in the Public Catalog or in other subject division catalogs. In the same manner, a sizable group of items on stagecraft in the Cyrillic alphabet will be found in the Slavonic Division and not in the Theatre Collection. It should be noted that the Slavonic Division catalog is generally richer than the Public Catalog in references to periodical articles on Balto-Slavic subjects both in Balto-Slavic and in non-Balto-Slavic languages.

This survey reflects the present organization of the Slavonic Division. Changes are contemplated that would make the division an equivalent of the General Research and Humanities Division, containing material only in the humanities.


The collections of the Slavonic Division have primarily been developed since the foundation of the New York Public Library. The Astor Library had a small group of Slavic dictionaries and other material, but did not expand in this field as it did in Orientalia and Judaica. The few important accessions of the nineteenth century came principally in the A. M. Bank collection, acquired in 1897. This was the working library of the scholar and educator Leon Mandelstamm, formed in Russia but principally of Jewish interest; the notable additions to Russian holdings were imprints from early and little-known Russian presses.

The Slavonic Division was established in 1899 as the Department of Slavonic Literature. In the early years the collection was overwhelmingly Russian, but in recent decades there has been a concerted attempt to build up other holdings, especially in Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, and the less common languages. The following indicates the growth of the division over the years:

1854 Astor Library41 volumes (Hungarian and Slavic literatures collectively)
1899 New York Public Library1,300

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Table 1 illustrates the relative strengths and growth of the language components of the division, clarifying its basic structure and revealing how the proportion of Russian-language holdings has changed from 1935 to 1966.

Table 1. Strengths and Development of Slavonic Division

Language19171935* 1945* 1966
Minor languages[dagger] --7,5985,026--
Czech and Slovak2802,8443,53912,124
Sorbian (Lusatian)--3139137
Non-Indo-European languages------315


Current Periodicals and Newspapers

Arranged by country, this card file lists in alphabetical order the newspapers and magazines published in Balto-Slavic languages available in the library (2 card drawers). Information includes the name of the journal or newspaper, its dates, and place of publication.

Exhibitions Vertical File

All information relative to the exhibition prepared by the Slavonic Division is retained (1 file tray). The material consists of labels, notes, and other items. The file was established in 1955. Among the periodic exhibitions, often in commemoration of an anniversary of an important author, have been those devoted to Dostoyevski and Mickiewicz in 1956, Turgenev in 1958, Chekhov in 1960, and Shevchenko in 1961.

Master Negative File

An alphabetical listing, by name of author or issuing institution, of all Slavonic Division materials which have been filmed and for which there is a master negative available. The file was established in 1964 (4 card drawers).

The Slavonic Division Catalog has been published in book form in 44 volumes by G. K. Hall & Company (Boston, 1974).


General Holdings

Imaginative literature in all forms is a strong feature of the Slavonic collection, especially outstanding in the Russian holdings. The important editions of the great classic writers such as Turgenev, Dostoyevski, Tolstoi, and Pushkin are present. Children's books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are well represented.

Extensive collections of public documents are included. Among them those of Imperial Russia are particularly notable, containing full sets of the proceedings of the state Imperial Duma, a complete collection of the laws of the Russian Empire, strong files of the annual reports of the ministries, and a complete file of the government gazette. The Soviet regime is represented as far as possible by printed legislative and administrative documents of the central government and the various member states of the federation.

The social sciences, in the broadest sense, are well covered. The library attempts to obtain any original contribution in the exact sciences, especially in mathematics, chemistry, and physics. The applied sciences, on the other hand, are less well covered; little material is collected relating to medicine, a field in which the library does not specialize. The library subscribes to a large and steadily increasing number of scientific and technical periodicals. Until 1964 periodicals in the Balto-Slavic languages were held in the Slavonic Division; some of the more significant titles have been transferred to the Science and Technology Research Center. A contemplated policy change will probably place all science titles in that subject division of the library, regardless of the language in which they are written.

The resources for the history of Russia, Poland, and other Slavic countries are substantial, both in native tongues and in Western languages. The holdings include histories, books of travel, and descriptions of social life with particular emphasis on Russia. Biographies of Russian royalty include important material on Peter the Great and Catherine II. There are also significant items documenting the dynastic, administrative, and political history of the Russian Empire during the last three centuries of its existence. The purchase of some 450 books from the libraries of Czar Nicholas II and other members of the Imperial family began about 1926. In 1931 the library of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich was acquired. The 2,200 volumes contain valuable documentation on various phases of the history of the Empire and include an outstanding group of regimental histories.1

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Another large group of material relates to revolutionary movements in Russia and to the Revolution of 1917. Particularly notable are the George Kennan collection and the donations of Miss Isabel Hapgood, which are more fully described below in the description of manuscript resources. The John Reed Russian collection, presented in 1935, consists of material published chiefly in 1917 and 1918.

The division collects the most important publications of Russian émigrés. Books have been acquired from New York, London, and other places, but the chief center of production is Paris. They range from scholarly works to memoirs of former notables, and from imaginative works to political pamphlets.

More than 750 periodical titles and 120 newspapers in all fields are received by the Slavonic Division. Of this total, 294 periodicals and 43 newspapers come from the USSR; 158 periodicals and 4 newspapers from Poland; and 92 periodicals and 1 newspapers from Czechoslovakia. In addition, the division acquires journals and newspapers from 13 other countries, the largest single unit being 94 periodicals and 52 newspapers from the United States and Canada, including materials both in Cyrillic and non-Cyrillic alphabets. Newspapers are housed in the division rather than in the Newspaper Collection. Publications of the national academies and other learned societies, as well as general reviews, are included in the collections, the strongest representation being for the period since 1850.

Rare Books

The Slavonic Division is primarily a working collection of reference and documentary materials, rather than rare books. The Slavonic Reserve Section, however, contains approximately 1,500 items, the large majority of them Russian, including some Petrine editions (the first books printed in the new Russian script introduced by Peter the Great). Other rare and valuable Slavonic publications are housed in the Rare Book Division.

The Triod tzvetnaya [The Floral Triodion or Pentecostarion], a liturgical book of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is believed to have been printed in Krakow by Schweitpolt Fiol (Viol) in 1491, the initial date in the history of printing from Cyrillic type. Only four other copies are known. The "Prague Bible," so called because it was printed in that city in 1488, is the earliest complete Bible in Czech; a translation of the Acts of the Apostles, printed in Moscow in 1564, is the first Russian dated book. A fine copy of the Kormchaya kniga [Nomocanon], printed in 1653, is a variant of the first edition of the digest of canon law by which the Russian Orthodox Church was guided until well into the nineteenth century. In 1968 a unique collection of nearly 300 pamphlets printed in Poland between 1590 and 1802 was acquired. The majority date from the seventeenth century. For the most part written in Latin, they consist in the main of panegyrics on such state events as royal weddings, declarations of war, and investitures of cardinals, and include much elusive historical and genealogical material. Many of the pamphlets were printed at the Jesuit press in Wilno.

The library's holdings of eighteenth-century "original" Russian publications in the grazhdanskii or civil script are strong; 166 titles are found in the Slavonic Division, the Map Division, the Music Division and the general collections.2 "Original" publications are those written in, Russian rather than translations into Russian from another language.


The Manuscripts and Archives Division of the Research Libraries houses some Slavonic manuscripts. Perhaps the most remarkable item is an Eastern Orthodox lectionary written in Cyrillic characters on parchment in the fourteenth century by a copyist apparently from northern Muscovy. Another important item is Georg de Hennin's description of the Siberian Metal Works written in 1735.3 During the second decade of this century, Isabel F. Hapgood presented numerous books and about 100 letters from eminent Russians with whom she had corresponded, including Tolstoi and members of his family, Maxim Gorki, and Alla Nazimova.

During 1919 and 1920 the library received two important gifts from George Kennan, totalling about 650 books and pamphlets, over 700 manuscript pieces, about 500 photographs and pictures, and numbers of magazines and newspapers. Kennan, an American journalist, was noted as an investigator of the Siberian penal system. The letters in the collection were written for the most part in the 1880s and 1890s by political convicts and other people connected with the emancipatory movement; there are many related documents. Also included are copies of 40 letters from Catherine Breshkovsky, known as the "Grandmother" (Babushka) of the Russian Revolution, some of them to Alice Stone Blackwell. Additional sections of the gift include materials for the biographies of convicts and official documents relating to the life of the exiles. The pictorial matter, which complements the manuscripts, contains a group of some 200 photographs of early Russian political exiles and convicts. A further 200 to 300 pictures relate to Siberia, with the exception of a number of pogrom photographs taken in Kishinev in 1903.4

The Russian Historical Archives were established in 1940 by Avrahm Yarmolinsky, former chief of the Slavonic Division, and others, but have not grown significantly. Most of the materials relate to Aleksandr V. Adiassewich, a petroleum engineer and writer on historical subjects. There are about 800 pages of Adiassewich's manuscript on Armenia, Turkestan, and the Ukraine in their economic aspects, and an unfinished draft of a book on Turkey. Also in the archives are correspondence, short stories, and articles by Yevenii N. Chirikov, Vasilii Nemirovich Danchenko, and Piotr P. Popov.

There are 174 letters (1923-34) from Catherine Breshkovsky to Mrs. Irene Dietrich discussing their mutual interest in Russian refugees, particularly children. The papers and correspondence of the Russian-American social reformer and Positivist

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thinker, William Frey, include letters to and from Russian liberals and revolutionaries, American Communists, and others. The collection of about 375 items centers on Frey's work in founding a community in Cedar Vale, Kansas, during the period from 1860 to 1888. The Emma Goldman collection (1917-28) and the Norman Thomas papers (1916-68) contain material of Russian interest; and several travel diaries of the mid-nineteenth century describe parts of Russia.