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Polish Collections at the Library of Congress

Polish materials are held throughout the Library of Congress. The European Reading Room is the reference point for these holdings. This guide provides an overview of materials, in different formats, in the general and special collections.

Overview of the Polish Collections

Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States. 1926. Library of Congress Digital Collections.


The 6,500-volume Thomas Jefferson library, acquired by the United States Congress in 1815, included only three examples of Polonica - - an English version of the May Third Constitution of 1791, published in London; A. L. Caraccioli's La Pologne, telle qu'elle a ete, telle qu'elle est, telle qu'elle sera (Paris, 1775); and G. B. Mably's De gouvernment et des loix de la Pologne (Paris, 1781). Preoccupied with the survival of the Union and the cares of nation building, Congress and its Library generally ignored the distant regions of Eastern Europe throughout the nineteenth century. As a result, in 1901 the Polish holdings totaled only 97 volumes. In 1907, with the acquisition of the 80,000-volume library of Siberian bibliophile G. V. Yudin, the Library's Polonica holdings increased threefold. Nevertheless, it was not until the end of World War II that development of a world- class collection of Soviet and East European (and hence, Polish) research materials became a priority of the Library of Congress.

The appointment in 1951 of Dr. Janina Hoskins as the Library's first Polish Area Specialist (a position she would hold for nearly four decades) marked the beginning of a systematic effort to acquire current and retrospective publications for the Polish collection. In the context of the present guide, the term "Polish collection" embraces all print and nonprint research materials that either originated in Poland, concern Poland, or are in the Polish language. The Library's Polish holdings do not constitute a collection in the sense of volumes physically collocated in a designated room or wing. Integrated by subject classes into the general collections, Polish materials are to be found in each building of the Library complex and practically on every stack deck. Through a variety of acquisition channels -- purchases, institutional exchanges, transfers from other U.S. Government agencies, copyright deposits, and gifts -- the Library has amassed one of the world's major Polish collections, including nearly 150,000 books in the Polish language alone. The collection continues to grow at the rate of approximately 3,000 new titles annually.

A quantitative ranking indicates the strengths of the Polish collection lie in history, belles lettres, biography, bibliography, art and architecture, and the physical sciences. The Library does not acquire in the fields of clinical medicine and agriculture. Scholarly works of a generic nature that do not contribute substantively to the body of human knowledge as a rule also are not collected. Thus, most textbooks and works on scientific phenomena that do not pertain uniquely to Poland do not fall within the acquisition profile of the Library.

Accounting for perhaps one-fourth of total Polonica holdings, history is the heart of the collection. All time periods and schools of historical thought are represented, including works by such icons as Jan Dlugosz, Adam Naruszewicz, and Joachim Lelewel. Although the oldest and rarest imprints are housed in the Rare Book Division (see below), the general collection also offers many unique first-edition nineteenth and twentieth-century works, e.g., the Latin-language serial Scriptores Rerum Polonicarum (Krakow, 1872-1917); Oswald Balzer's Genealogia Piastow (Krakow, 1895) or his three-volume Krolestwo Polskie, 1295-1370 (Lwow, 1919); or the serial Gesamtuberblick uber die polnische Tagesliteratur [Presse], 1894-1939. Historians will also find a convenient chronicle of events during the communist period in the daily Polish Press Summary (1951-1959), prepared by the American and British embassies in Warsaw and, from the Polish government's perspective, in the Krajowa Agencja Informacyjna Biuletyn, 1956-1989. The Library also offers long (often complete) runs of the major Polish historical journals published in Poland and abroad, e.g., the Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej (Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of the History of Material Culture, 1953-present); Acta Poloniae Historica (Polish Academy of Sciences, Institute of History, 1961-present); Ochrona Zabytkow (Ministry of Culture and Art, Historic Monuments Documentation Center, 1948-present); and Zeszyty Historyczne, an influential journal published by the Paris-based Instytut Literacki (1962-present).

Two recent acquisitions of particular interest to Polish historians (available in the European Reading Room in the Jefferson Building) are Polskie Archiwum Biograficzne (Polish Biographical Archive), a set of more than 500 microfiches compiled from 180 biographical reference works from the 17th to the 20th centuries; and Polish Military Archives, a collection of 92 reels of microfilm from the Central Military Archives in Warsaw. The latter includes letters, memoranda, policy papers of the Polish Cabinet of Ministers, the Minister of Defense, the General Staff, and other high military bodies; most of the documents deal with the early Cold War period (1945-55), but some records extend into the 1960s, and there are plans to film material from World War II and from the interwar period.

The Library of Congress possesses a large, balanced collection of perhaps 15,000 volumes of Polish belles lettres and works of literary criticism. Because of the copyright deposit law, English translations published in the United States automatically are added to the collection. A major recent acquisition in this category is W. S. Kuniczak's superb translation of the Sienkiewicz trilogy. Scholars will find volumes of poetry, novels, essays, short stories, and the personal correspondence of writers from every period in the evolution of Polish literature--from its Latin roots in the Middle Ages to the earliest works in the Polish vernacular to the Golden Age of the Renaissance and on to the Baroque, the Enlightenment, the Romantic Period, Positivism, Young Poland, and the succeeding movements that constitute modern Polish literature. Holdings from the Romantic and Positivist writers are particularly strong and include the complete works of such literary giants as Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, Zygmunt Krasinski, and Boleslaw Prus (Aleksander Glowacki).

At the heart of the Library's outstanding collection of literary criticism are numerous complete runs of scholarly journals, including several issued by the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, e.g., Pamietnik Literacki (founded in 1902 by the Adam Mickiewicz Literary Society of Lwow); Biuletyn Polonistyczny (1958-present); Z Dziejow form Artystycznych w Literaturze Polskiej (1963- present). The collection also offers a complete set of Tworczosc (1945-present), whose first issue contained new works by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and Jerzy Andrzejewski. Important emigre literary journals include the Paris-based Zeszyty Literackie and the quarterly Oficyna Poetow, published in London.