Drawing by Pyotr Borel. 1852
Engraving by Lavrenty Seryakov after a drawing by Gustaf Broling. 1862
Portrait by Ignatius Shchedrovsky
In this period Afanasy Bychkov, who had been made head of the Russian Department, and his assistant, the noted bibliographer Vladimir Mezhov (who served in the library from 1851 to 1866), were engaged in a lively correspondence with the censors' office and other institutions, seeking effective implementation of the law giving the library a statutory copy of each and every new publication. Their efforts bore fruit: by 1864 roughly 90% of everything that had been published in the Russian language had been collected in the library and it held unchallenged first place for the completeness of its stocks of Russian printed matter.
Readers' demands had also changed with regard to foreign works, the character of new additions and the rate at which they were obtained. Prince Vladimir Odoevsky, a writer and music critic with an encyclopaedic range of interests, was assistant director at this time. He determined the guidelines for the selection of foreign books and — in accordance with readers' wishes — he gave preference to physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, medicine, administrative law, finance, economics, and technology (notably shipbuilding and railway engineering).
Grateful Russian society in turn concerned itself with the condition of the national book repository. In the 1850s donations of both books and money began to come in from all over Russia. Among those who sent books were the great lexicographer Vladimir Dahl, author of The Dictionary of the Living Russian Language, the prominent surgeon Nikolai Pirogov, the historian Nikolai Kostomarov, the astronomer Vasily Struve and the natural scientist Eduard Eichwald. Suffice it to say that in that one decade the Public Library received roughly thirty times more books and manuscripts as gifts than in the whole first half of the century. The library requested and obtained a law by which packages addressed to it were carried free of charge. The names of donors were entered in a special register; they were reported in the press and a full list was published in the library's annual report. In terms of social status and profession, these benefactors were very varied — a fact which reflected a desire across the classes for a flourishing Public Library. Donations also arrived from abroad, "from all ends of the educated world".
Russian society's interest in the activities of the national library was also demonstrated by the attention which the reading public devoted to its annual reports. After publication was resumed in 1851, many Russian newspapers and periodicals (including Otechestvennye zapiski, Sovremennik, Biblioteka dlya chteniya, Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti, Russky invalid, Russkoe slovo and Moskvitianin) regularly carried reviews of these reports. Moreover, each year no fewer than five or six articles and paragraphs appeared dealing with the library, its structure and the organization of its services. Many of these pieces were written by the "opinion-makers" among the raznochintsy intelligentsia and young students, such as Nikolai Chemyshevsky, Nikolai Dobroliubov and Dmitry Pisarev.
Drawing by Georg Wilhelm Timm. 1853
Half-tone from a photograph by F. Korobov
The new order came to the Public Library somewhat ahead of the advent of reforms in Russia generally. This was an expression of Korff's far-sightedness, his flexibility and his feeling for what was new. It was his assertion that the library should be useful not just in moral terms, but in economic ones too — meaning the creation of conditions for the dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge among the "third estate". In the 1850s the library became a place of importance "not only to specialist scholars, but also to all classes without exception of educated, and even simply literate society" — Otechestvennye zapiski stated in 1857.
Oil painting by Stefan De Ladveze. 1853
Litograph by Alexander Munster
Korff's administrative talent, his ability to get everyone working for goals which he set, revealed itself especially strongly with the creation in the 1850s of a separate Rossica section containing foreign books about Russia. Although this was a breach of his usually conservative attitude towards Olenin's legacy, Korff was still in many ways following a course already mapped out by his predecessors and in effect achieving a long established goal to bring together everything that had been printed about Russia in all languages.
Korff himself had long been engaged in bibliographical searches on Russian history and by the time he came to the library he had already accumulated extensive records. (When Pushkin sought Korff's help in finding material on Peter the Great's time, he was struck by the wealth of his former schoolfellow's knowledge.)
The creation of the Rossica department occupied a special place in the director's plans. It lay at the centre of his concerns and actions and prompted a whole series of special undertakings: the gathering of preliminary material for an intended definitive catalogue of works about Russia; the sending out of this material for consultation to Russian and foreign scholars, universities and learned societies; journeys abroad made by Korff. and other members of staff; links with Russian and foreign bibliophiles and book-dealers; the mobilization of all the librarians in search of books.
Purchases, exchanges and donations were all used to build up the collection. Each year between a thousand and two thousand titles came into the new department. These acquisitions included many rare or unique publications dealing with the history of Russian foreign relations. Material about the Crimean War (1853-56) comprised a distinct element within the collection.
Korff regarded the regeneration of the Public Library as the finest achievement of his life. He himself wrote: "Out of the chaos of a library that called itself public, but in effect took the form of a gigantic storeroom without light or life, Korff has managed to create a house of learning which, if still not the richest in the world, certainly comes first for organization, and especially for that liberality and hospitality with which it welcomes and satisfies the needs of its numerous visitors from the greatest magnate to the bonded serf, from the noblest lady to the lowliest midwife." And indeed he was right. If he did earn himself a lasting place in Russian history, it was largely due, as Dmitry Filosofov rightly observed, to his efforts to breathe new life into the Public Library in the 1850s.
Yet in speaking of these changes for the better, we should immediately recall that they were the fruits of collective endeavour. It was once quite rightly said that "Korff possessed to the highest degree the ability to utilize the thoughts and powers of his assistants." Bychkov worked zealously to build up the Russian department and insistently impressed upon Korff the prime importance of this task. Odoevsky as assistant director busied himself with the organization of the stocks and the acquisition of new foreign books. Sobolshchikov who had devoted much effort to the creation of the Rossica section, in 1859 wrote and published the first Russian-language guide to librarianship, The Organization of Public Libraries and the Compilation of Their Catalogues, a work which became known across Europe. In keeping with the new spirit of the times he spoke out decisively in favour of the democratic reorganization of the Public Library, which, he believed, should become a true "haven for all those seeking information and not a secret temple of learning, as was formerly the case". The function of historiographer and compiler of the library's reports was carried out in this period by Vladimir Stasov who was also entrusted with organizing exhibitions in the art section (works of the Russian school of engraving, for example, or engraved portraits of Peter the Great). Stasov was actively involved too in the compilation of a systematic catalogue of the Rossica department and in sorting out the prints in the art department. From 1850 the staff of the library included Kaetan Kossovich, one of the first Russian scholars of India and the author of a number of works on Oriental studies. Apart from managing the Oriental department, he was also resposible for editing the scholarly works published by the library and introducing visitors to its organizational structure and its priceless treasures.
For all the significance of the changes which took place in the 1850s, that decade nonetheless represented, to use Filosofov's expression, the "Middle Ages" in the history of the Public Library. The "Modern Era" arrived in the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth and the difference between these two eras was of the same magnitude as that between the light provided by the gas-jets which appeared in the library in 1851 and the electric lighting which was installed there forty years later.
Principal Book Repository in Russia (1795 - 1813)
New Temple of Enlightenment (1814 - 1842)
Arrival of Dmitry Buturlin as Director (1843 - 1849)
Political Spring in Russia (1850 - 1859)
"Modern Era" (1860 - 1899)
Pre-Revolutionary Years (1900 - 1917)
Civil War and Building a Socialist Economy (1918 - 1940)
WWII. Siege of Leningrad. (1941 - 1945)
Second Half of the 20th Century (1946 - 2000 )