We have one of the leading research collections in the world for Slavonic and Baltic studies and for research on Russia and the former Soviet Union. Print and non-print materials are being actively acquired from the countries of origin in vernacular languages, including a small number of items in minority languages spoken in these countries and, where appropriate, published by diasporas.
About the collection
The collection includes print monographs, periodicals, newspapers, statistics and official publications, as well as archival material, maps, philatelic items, photographs, music scores, sound recordings, visual art materials, posters, postcards and ephemera.
Notable 16th century rarities include books printed by Frantisak Skaryna and Ivan Fedorov. Our 18th-century Russian holdings are the largest and most diverse in the UK. They consist of around 600 works in Russian or Church Slavonic, as well as books in West European languages printed in the Russian Empire. Publications of the Russian Academy of Sciences are particularly well represented. The 19th-century collections include almost-complete runs of publications of Russian imperial learned societies. There is also an extensive collection of Russian and Ukrainian avant-garde books of the early 20th century.
The Ukrainian collections are strong in literary and linguistic works by Ukrainian writers of the second half of the 19th century. The collection is particularly rich in Ukrainian books published at the turn of the century and in the first three decades of the 20th century, both inside and outside Ukraine. A large proportion of the publishing output of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries relating to Belarus is in Russian or, to a lesser extent, in Polish. We have first editions of fundamental works for the study of the Belarusian language and culture.
The Baltic collections came into being in the course of the 19th century as a by-product of the Library's German, Polish and Russian collections. They include early publishing, such as notable examples of the oldest forms of vernacular literature and folk literature. Highlights include the first Latvian Bible, and the only surviving fragment of the first Lithuanian Bible (Genesis-Joshua). We have considerable material on the history of the Baltic region, its literatures and languages. We have many complete series of the important learned societies. Among the holdings are important materials that cover the period of independence before WWII, including official publications,
The British Library has a historical collection of materials on sciences, mainly in Russian, which is related to the period of the Cold War, but at present we do not collect material on science, technology and medicine in Slavonic and East European languages. Substantial material in English and other major European languages is also collected to support Slavonic and East European Studies. We also collect some contemporary fiction and primary source materials. Some primary sources (especially newspapers and archival materials held abroad) are available in microform.
What is available online?
A large number of digital resources are available on-site via the Reading Room PCs. As a result of large-scale digitisation projects we have digitised thousands of out-of-copyright (17th-19th century) books, many of them in Russian or Ukrainian languages. To find them search Explore the British Library and then refine your result list by Access Options: Online.
The British Library also subscribes to a number of electronic resources, which are listed under Slavonic and East European electronic resources and are available onsite in the Library Reading Rooms.
A small collection of electronic books (mostly Russian classics) is also available from the Integrum database.
The series of databases Mass Culture & Entertainment in Russia gives access to collections of extremely rare material: page-by-page scans of books and serials related to film, theatre and sports, as well as collections of archival material, such as Artek Pioneer Camp Archives, 1944-1967.
Russian and Ukrainian digital collections can be found on the Endangered Archives Programme website.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?Russian and East European material is distributed across the Library’s collections and can largely be found using Explore the British Library and Search Our Catalogue: Archives and Manuscripts. Enter keywords or titles in Cyrillic when searching for pre-1975 publications (see How to search for Cyrillic items).
Some print catalogues remain essential reference sources:
A union catalogue of Cyrillic manuscripts in British and Irish collections, compiled by Ralph Cleminson. London: School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1988.
Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections: a union catalogue, compiled by Ralph Cleminson, Christine Thomas, Dilyana Radoslavova, Andrej Voznesenskij. London: The Britsh Library, 2000.
Russian and Church Slavonic books 1701-1800 in United Kingdom libraries: a list with bibliographical references, locations, notes and indices, compiled by C.L. Drage. London, 1984.
Navickiene, Ausra and Janet Zmroczek. ‘Lietuvisku knygu rinkinys Britu bibliotekoje’ (The Lithuanian book collection in the British Library), in Knygotyra 1998 and 1997
What is available in other organisations?Outside the British Library there are various other sources available online, including:
- Электронная библиотека РГБ - Digital resources provided by the Russian State Library digital collection. Mainly open access and free.
- Электронная библиотека РНБ - The National Library of Russia digital collection. Mainly charged resource, the British Library has no access; several databases are free.
- Электронная библиотека ГПНТБ СО РАН - The State Public Library for Science and Technology of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences digital collection. Free resource. Not updated since 2016.
- Электронная библиотека ГПИБ - The State Historical Public Library digital collection. Free resource
- Цифрова бібліотека історико-культурної спадщини - The National Library of Ukraine digital collection.
- Електронна бібліотека української літератури - Free resource.
- Научная электронная библиотека eLIBRARY.RU - contains ca. 4,000 Russian scholarly and scientific journals including over 2,500 open access titles.
- The National Bibliography of Belarus
- The Union electronic catalogue of libraries in Belarus