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The Manuscripts Department is one of the world's largest repository of manuscripts and autograph documents, which houses priceless treasures of the world's history and culture. The manuscripts held by the National Library of Russia comprise of over 1300 private archives and collections that today number more than 450 000 valuable items for all periods and countries. The chronological span of the collections is from the 10th century before Christ (papyri from Ancient Egypt) to the present day.

The Manuscripts Department was established on 11 March 1802. Piotr Dubrovsky, a former official at the Russian embassy in Paris and a passionate bibliophile and collector, was the first appointed Keeper of Manuscripts from 1805 to 1812. During the period 1812 - 1828, Alexander Yermolaev, the talented authority on Russian chronicle-writing and Russian manuscript books, was placed in charge of manuscripts collections. His successors were the outstanding Russian philologist and poet Alexander Vostokov (1828 - 1844); academician Athanasius Bychkov (1844 - 1881) and corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences Ivan Bychkov (1881 - 1944), the son of Athanasius Bychkov.

The Manuscripts Department is divided into the following areas:

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