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Home | Studying Russia | British Library- the biggest public collection of Russian books outside Russia

British Library- the biggest public collection of Russian books outside Russia

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Until 1973 the world famous British Museum library was part of the British Museum’s collections, and was located on the Museum’s site.

British LibraryBritish LibraryHowever, in that year the library became part of a new organization, the British Library. This organization remained at the British Museum until 1997, when it received a new building at St Pancras, so that all books were relocated from Bloomsbury to the new site. The British Library is now one of the richest research libraries in the world.

Russian collections. The Russian collections at the British Library have long and well-documented history. Apart from an extensive collection of Russian books and periodicals from the Imperial, Soviet and contemporary periods, as well as books in other languages addressing various aspects of Russian history, science, politics and culture, the British Library holds various special collections of Russian visual material.

Russian books formed a part of the Sir Hans Sloan’s foundation collections. Sloan’s collections contained a number of early-printed books in Russian and Church Slavonic. The Library of King George III also contained a number of 17th c Russian imprints. In the 1840s a systematic acquisition of Russian books was introduced, so that by the end of the 19th c the British Library possessed the biggest public collection of Russian books outside Russia. Although inadequate funding and dramatic political events in the first four decades of the 20th resulted in certain weaknesses in the Library’s holdings, by the end of 1950s the British Library successfully re-established regular replenishment of its Russian collections with new material. At present about 5000 monographs a year are acquired, as well as a wide range of periodicals. (Source of information: British Library on-line catalogue/Russian collections, © The British Library Board).

Among the highlights of the British Library collection of Russian book there are: twenty 17th c books printed in Moscow including the first dated Moscow printed book, Fedorov’s Apostol of 1564 and the first secular books to be printed in Muscovy; sixtythree 18th c volumes from Diaghilev-Lifar collection; first editions of Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin  and Boris Godunov, Gogol’s Dead Souls and The Government Inspector, Dostoevskii’s Crime and Punishment , Idiot and Demons, Tolstoi’s War and Peace; the Turkova-Willimas Collection contains books, brochures, leaflets and articles collected from the White occupied zone in 1918-1921.

Collections of Russian visual material provide good sources for researching history of Russian arts and culture from Imperial  and post-Revolutionary period. They include portraits of the Russian Imperial family; richly illustrated coronation albums; illustrated monographs from the last decades of the 19th c on topography, decorative and fine arts; Rovinskii’s album of popular prints [lubki]; an important collection of Russian early 20th c. avant-garde material, including 15 handwritten and lithographed Futurist books by Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, Kamenskii, Maiakovaskii, Burliuk brothers, Larionov, Goncharova, Malevich and Filonov; N. Goncharova’s lithographic album Mystical images of War (1914) and a collection of World War I propaganda posters, including some by Maiakovskii and Malevich; a collection of Russian postcards from late 19th – early 20th cc containing 2958 items; a collection of Civil War anti-Bolshevik posters; constructivist books of the 1920s and a collection of communist posters of the early 1920s; a small collection of artists’ books produced in Moscow and St Petersburg in the late 1980s and 1990s and some provincial examples of neo-avant-garde Russian book design.


Natalia Goncharova, War: Mystical Images of War, cover for the portfolio of 14 lithographs, 1914. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

More detailed information about various special holdings from Russian collections’ is assessable through the on-line British Library catalogue at