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The Library Development (1921–1926)

The origins of the National Library of Belarus date back to September 15th, 1922. On that day the Council of People’s Commissars of the BSSR adopted the Decree “On the Establishment of Belarusian State Library and Compulsory Registration of All Publications Issued in the SSRB”. This Decree ratified the Library as the most important state and national institute, the key element of information infrastructure of the society. This event has however an interesting background.

Due to historical collisions by the early 20th century Belarus had no library which could fulfill the duties of the national library, central book depository, and bibliographical centre. At the same time the country needed such a library.  On January 1st, 1919, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus was proclaimed . The young state proceeded to the development of political, social, economic, and cultural institutions including the new Belarusian library which had to be created almost from nothing. Despite the lack of specialists, financial and technical basis, the development of Belarusian national book collection began in 1919.

At that time there were several projects of Belarusian central library. At first, its role was assumed by the library, opened in 1921 at the Belarusian State University (BSU). University tradition dating from the 12th century determining the system of European higher education, envisaged the creation of its own fundamental library which could support research, education and curriculum. This was the first stage of the development of Belarusian national library system.

Reconstruction of the Jubilee House

At the same time, the BSSR People Commissariat of Education developed a project of a public central state library which could collect and keep the collection of national documents. In November the BSSR People Commissariat of Education Academic Centre adopted the Decree of the on the foundation of Belarusian State Central Library.

Due to a difficult geopolitical situation, urgent need for restoration of national economy, and lack of big libraries and book collections, the foundation of two central libraries was impossible. Therefore was adopted a compromise settlement on the establishment a single institution which could be at the same time public and university library.

However, the current geopolitical situation, the necessity of economic life restoration, the lack of large libraries with material and organizational base, and the lack of a free book fund prevented the creation of two full-fledged libraries in the republic at the same time. Therefore, a compromise was made on the formation of a single library that would perform functions of public and university libraries. Thus on September 15th, 1922, the BSSR Council of People’s Commissars adopted the Decree on the establishment of Belarusian State and University Library. Though the Library was included into Belarusian State University, it fulfilled the duties of a central state library. The Library fulfilled the duties of the state book depository; centre of bibliographic processing of materials and development and maintenance of Belarusian libraries union catalogue; publisher of bibliographic materials; library science institution; bibliography science institution; book science institution, and the state centre of press registration and national documents safekeeping.

The Jubilee House in Zakharyevskaya Street (today Nezavisimosty Avenue) became the first Library building. In February 1922 the Library opened its doors to users. Joseph Simanovsky was the first director of the Library. Joseph Simanovsky was a remarkable library expert, the graduate of Sorbonne and Bern Universities. He was at the head of the Library during 40 years. Thanks to his enthusiasm, devotion, and managerial abilities Belarusian State Library made a significant progress and has reached the level of the world's leading national libraries.

At the beginning of 1922 the Library collection totaled only 60.000 items. New acquisitions and development of a complete book collection were the main tasks of the Library. In its implementation there are several directions. First of all the current acquisition was organized and it was based on a free legal deposit copy of publications issued in the USSR and the BSSR, which were contributing to the Library collection. Besides the Library acquired publications issued before the October Revolution (1917). Any opportunity to purchase such books was used. Most of the pre-revolutionary funds were completed from private collections by the library in those years. The most valuable and interesting were private book collections of Y. Karsky and N. Yanchuk on Belarusian studies, ethnography and literature; K. Grot on Slavonic studies, I. Kornilov, S. Sapunov and S. Goldstein on Belarusian history; a part of Y. Kupala’s private library; libraries of Polotsk Jesuit Academy, Minsk Theological Seminary, Moscow Choral Synagogue, and others. Unfortunately, many initiatives of the Library failed. At the 400th anniversary of Belarusian book-printing V.I. Picheta, the head of Belarusian State University, suggested handing to Belarus copies of Belarusian incunabula, first of all publications by Francysk Skaryna stored in the USSR depositories. But this suggestion was not approved. The project of handing to Belarus the Library of Roman Catholic Theological Academy in Leningrad (which used to include libraries of Vilnius University and Vilnius Senior Seminary) was not fulfilled. The international book exchange successfully developed. By 1928 the Library established partnership with more than 20 countries in Europe and America. It helped to By 1926 the Library collections totaled 300.000 items.

Librarians near the Jubilee House (1926)

In the Library was organized Belarusian Book Chamber which performed bibliographic processing of materials. In the 1920th Belarusian Book Chamber was headed by N.N. Ulaschik, the eminent Belarusian historian, ethnographer and writer. Thanks to his remarkable managerial abilities Belarusian Book Chamber became one of the best bibliographic organizations in the USSR. In 1924 the year-book of current national bibliography – "Chronicles of Belarusian Press" was launched. In 1927 statistics of the national press maintenance were launched. Workers of the Library Belarusian department developed the Central Regional Card Index which became the model of national retrospective bibliography.

Belarusian department (1925)

The card index included bibliographical description of publications issued in Belarus as well as foreign books and articles about Belarus both from scientific publications issued before the October Revolution (1917) and Soviet scientific publications. A Belarusian Bibliographic Bureau for the development of bibliography and library science and monitoring of scientific and academic libraries. The Bureau existed until 1929. Since the mid-1920s Joseph Simanovsky headed the Library bibliographic activities together with the Institute of Belarusian Culture. The joint Bibliographic Commission developed series of scientific bibliographies “Materials to Belarusian Bibliography”.

Marxism and Soviet structuring department (1925)

This library’s activity was reflected in the growth of reader activity. If in 1922 1.1 thousand people used the library’s funds, then by 1925 the number of the Library users was over 5,5 thousand. About 500-600 users visited the library daily. The library extended its activities and duties. But organizational and juridical status of the Library should have been changed as the status of a university library embarrassed its further development.

On May 14th, 1926, the Council of People’s Commissars of the BSSR adopted the Decree "On the re-organization of Belarusian State and University Library". Belarusian State Library was separated from the Belarusian State University and re-organized into an independent institution which headed Belarusian library system.