The Imperial Public Library opened in St.-Petersburg

14 January 1814

On January 2 (14), 1814 in St.-Petersburg took place the grand opening of the Imperial Public Library established on May 16 (27), 1795 under the order of Catherine II the empress.

The Imperial Public Library became the first state library in Russia. Its main objective was to create “the complete collection of the Russian books” published both in Russia (from the times when the book printing began) and abroad in Russian language. It was also presumed to collect books on Russia issued in foreign languages.

The basis for the Public Library’s funds was a collection of books delivered from Warsaw that belonged to Zalusky brothers and contained 400.000 volumes. The empress also intended to pass over to the national library a part of the Hermitage library collection – the books of Diderot, Voltaire. On the request of Stroganoff in the beginning of 19 century Alexander I the emperor acquired a collection of P. Dubrovsky, a Russian ambassador in France which included the most valuable documents on the French history, archives of the eminent persons, Slavic manuscripts. A large amount of books and manuscripts were donated to the library.  In 1810 was adopted the law on the legal deposit. Under the law the Public Library now received two free copies of all printed editions issued in the territory of Russia that allowed it to develop the richest collection in Russian.

The Imperial Library was open for everyone. Each reader “had a free access to it regardless of his rank or status”. A.N. Olenin, the first Public Library Director, wrote in August of 1814: “The real objective of the open repository is to provide for everybody, no matter who it is, with books, even the most rare, so he could use them for free without taking home”.

The library was open both “for use” and “for viewing”. From the very beginning the Public Library served in the function of a museum – presented rare books and manuscripts to the public, demonstrated the Library interiors, its employees accompanied the Library viewing with commentaries on its character, history, significance of the exhibits.

In 1917 the Imperial Public Library was renamed into the Russian Public Library. In 1932 it was given the name of M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin. From 1937 the institution was called the State Public Library n. a. Saltykov-Shchedrin and on March 1992 under the decree of the Russian Federation President it was transformed into the Russian National Library.

At the present the Russian National Library is the fifth library in the world according to its funds’ size. It conducts great methodical, scientific and enlightening activities.


Lit.: Российская национальная библиотека: историческая справка [Электронный ресурс] // Российская национальная библиотека. 1998-2013. URL: :; Российская национальная библиотека. История архивохранилища [Электронный ресурс] // Архивы России. 2001-2013. URL:


Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Автографы Императорской Публичной библиотеки. Вып. 1. М., 1872;

Дела Отделения Государственной Экономии. 1891 г. Об отпуске 547.244 руб.38 коп. на постройку нового здания для Императорской публичной библиотеки [Дело] : 14 марта - 29 марта 1891 года. 1891. 71 лист. (РГИА. Ф. 1162. Оп. 1. Д. 1);

Минцлов Р. И. Пётр Великий в иностранной литературе : cоставил по случаю 200-летнего юбилея Петра Великого, по материалам гр. Корфа... б. дир. Имп. Публ. б-ки Р. Минцлоф. СПб., 1872 (Подробный каталог иностранных сочинений о России (Rossica), находящихся в Императорской Публичной библиотеке в Санкт-Петербурге);

Письма и бумаги императрицы Екатерины II, хранящиеся в Императорской Публичной библиотеке. СПб., 1873;

Письма Петра Великого, хранящиеся в Императорской Публичной библиотеке и описание находящихся в ней рукописей, содержащих материалы для истории его царствования, составленное А. Ф. Бычковым. СПб., 1872.