Russian National Library

The National Library of Russia in St Petersburg, known as the State Public Saltykov-Shchedrin Library from 1932 to 1992 (i.e. in the Soviet era), is the oldest public library in Russia. It should not be confused with the Russian State Library, located in Moscow.

Establishment

The Imperial Public Library was established in 1795 by Catherine the Great, whose private collections included the domestic libraries of Voltaire and Diderot, which she had purchased from their heirs. Voltaire's personal library is still one of the highlights of the collection.

The cornerstone of the public library came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the form of Załuski's Library (420,000 volumes), stolen by the Russians at the time of the partitions. Those books were only partially returned to Poland by the Russian SFSR in 1921 (55,000 printed books).

For five years after its foundation, the library was run by Comte Marie-Gabriel-Florent-Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier. The elegant main building on Nevsky Prospekt was built in a Neoclassical style designed by the architect Yegor Sokolov in 1796-1801. Several annexes were added in the course of the following century, notably the Gothic Hall in 1857.

19th century

Under Count Alexander Stroganov, who managed the library during the first decade of the 19th century, the Rossica project was inaugurated, a vast collection of foreign books touching on Russia. It was Stroganov who secured for the library some of its most invaluable treasures, namely the Ostromir Gospel, the earliest book written in Russian language, and the Hypatian Codex of the Russian Primary Chronicle.

The Imperial Public Library was officially opened on January 3, 1814 in the presence of Gavrila Derzhavin and Ivan Krylov. In 1811 the library's collection began to grow rapidly, because a copy of each book published in Imperial Russia was henceforth deposited with the library, so that by 1914 the collection had expanded to 3,000,000 volumes.

The library's third, and arguably most famous, director was Aleksey Olenin (1763–1843). His 32-year tenure at the helm, with Sergey Uvarov serving as his deputy, raised the profile of the library among Russian intellectuals. Such luminaries as Krylov, Konstantin Batyushkov, Nikolay Gnedich, Anton Delvig, Mikhail Zagoskin, Alexander Vostokov, and Father Ioakinf joined the library staff and the library's doors were opened to all kinds of readers, including women and peasants.

From 1849 to 1861 the library was managed by Count Modest von Korff (1800–76), who had been Alexander Pushkin's school-fellow at the Lyceum. Korff and his successor, Ivan Delyanov, added to the library's collections some of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament (the Codex Sinaiticus from the 340s), the Old Testament (the so-called Leningrad Codex), and one of the earlies Qur'ans (the Uthman Qur'an from the mid-7th century).

20th century

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the institution was placed under the management of Ernest Radlov and Nicholas Marr, although its national preeminence was relinquished to the Lenin State Library in Moscow. The library was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour in 1939 and remained open during the gruesome Siege of Leningrad. In 1948, the Neoclassical campus of the Catherine Institute on the Fontanka Embankment (Giacomo Quarenghi, 1804–07) was assigned to the library. By 1970, the Library contained more than 17,000,000 items. The modern building for the book depository was erected on Moskovsky Prospekt in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bibliography
  • История Государственной ордена Трудового Красного Знамени Публичной библиотеки имени М. Е. Салтыкова-Щедрина. — Ленинград: Лениздат, 1963. — 435 с., л. ил.
  • История Библиотеки в биографиях её директоров, 1795—2005 / Российская национальная библиотека. — Санкт-Петербург, 2006. — 503, с.: ил. — ISBN 5-8192-0263-5.

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