Russian State Library

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The Russian State Library is the largest library in Russia; the second largest library in the world after the Library of Congress, with holdings of more than forty-two million volumes. It is also a major scientific research center for library studies, bibliography, and book studies.

Founded in the center of Moscow in 1862 as the Moscow Public Museum and Rumyantsev Museum, the Russian State Library had its origins in the library of Count Nikolai Rumyantsev (17541826), whose outstanding collection of books, manuscripts, and cartographic materials, including 710 manuscripts and 28,500 books, was donated to the Russian state to form the Rumyantsev Museum in St. Petersburg in 1831. The library was administered by the Imperial Public Library from 1845 to 1861, when it was transferred to Moscow. The new library grew rapidly by means of its status as a legal depository of all publications issued in the Russian empire, a privilege granted until 1862 to only three libraries: the Imperial Public Library, the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Helsinki University Library. It also benefited from collections donated by some of Russian's most prominent public figures, scholars, scientists, and writers, and by their families.

In the prerevolutionary period, the library received more than three hundred private book collections, including those of statesman Avraam Norov; bibliographer and bibliophile Sergei Poltoratsky; philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev; writer Prince Vladimir Odoyevsky, who served as deputy director of the Imperial Public Library and director of the Rumyantsev Museum from 1846 until it moved to Moscow; and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II. The library also acquired book and manuscript collections of writers Gavriil Derzhavin, Vasily Zhukovsky, Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Veltman, Fyodor Tyutchev, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Afanasy Fet, Alexander Herzen, Nikolai Nekrasov, Alexander Ostrovsky, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Vasily Rozanov, Valery Bryusov, Alexander Blok, Mikhail Bulgakov, Kornei Chukovsky, Isaac Babel, and Sergei Yesenin; literary scholars Alexander Pypin, Izmail Sreznevsky, Alexei Sobolevsky, Boris Tomashevsky, Pavel Sakulin, and Nikolai Gudzy; historians Vasily Klyuchevsky, Nikolai Karamzin, Mikhail Pogodin, and Sergei Soloviev; and librarians and bibliographers Vasily Sobolshchikov, Vladimir Mezhov, and Nikolai Lisovsky, among others. Within fifty years of its founding, it had become one of the preeminent cultural and educational institutions of Russia, combing the roles of public library, treasury of manuscripts and decorative art, and archeological and ethnographic museum.

With the nationalization of libraries and cultural institutions after the October 1917 Revolution and the move of the capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1918, it became the main library of the country. Its name, which had changed in 1869 to Moscow Public and Rumyantsev Museum and in 1913 to Imperial Moscow and Rumyantsev Museum, changed again in 1917 to State Rumyantsev Museum. In 1921 the library was reorganized to become separate from the museum: It was assigned the function of a state repository, and granted the status of national library. In 1924 its name was changed to V. I. Lenin All-Russian Public Library, in 1925 to V. I. Lenin State Library of the USSR, in accordance with its new status as the national library of the USSR, and in 1992, with the dissolution of the USSR, to Russian State Library.

The Manuscript Division holds works dating from the earliest years of Slavonic script. These include the Arkhangelsk Gospel of 1092, the Mariinskoe Gospel of the eleventh century, and the Khitrovo Gospel of the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century. It possesses a valuable collection of West European manuscripts, dating as early as the twelfth century, as well as Greek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese manuscripts. The library has holdings estimated at 80 percent of all known books printed in Cyrillic script from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, including examples of early Russian printing associated with printer Ivan Fyodorov and typographer Pyotr Mstislavets, and a vast collection of eighteenth-century books printed in the civil script developed for secular works. Highlights include first and lifetime editions of Renaissance thinkers and scientists, including Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, and Sir Thomas More. The library prides itself on its rare editions of outstanding Russian and foreign representatives of culture and science, including Dmitry Mendeleyev, Nikolai Lobachevsky, Ivan Pavlov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Voltaire, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, George Gordon Byron, Heinrich Heine, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Émile Zola, and Bernard Shaw.

The library was originally housed in the former residence of retired military officer Pyotr Pashkov, in a building known as Pashkov House, built by architect Vasily Bazhenov from 1784 to 1786 in the Russian classical style. The building had a reading room for twenty people and was expanded over many decades to accommodate readers and collections. In 1958 construction was completed on a new library building adjacent to the original building, with reading rooms for more than 2,000 readers. In addition, a branch opened in 1975 in Khimki on the outskirts of Moscow to house newspapers and dissertations. While focused on collection, preservation, and service relating to Russia's cultural heritage, the library's mission reflects its status as one of the world's finest repositories of the creative and intellectual output of humankind.

See also: national library of russia


Davis, Robert H., Jr., and Kasinec, Edward. (2001). "Russian State Library, Moscow." In International Dictionary of Library Histories, vol. 2, ed. David H. Stam. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.

The State Lenin Library of the USSR, 18621987. (1987). Moscow: State Library of the USSR.

Janice T. Pilch

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