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Development of Belorussian Bibliography

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Timeline IX century until 1920s

Belorussian bibliography remains to be a topic requiring further investigation and study. Before 1917, Belorussian bibliography was closely tied to the bibliographies of other nations, such as Poland and Russia.  Early Belorussian resources are described in the works of Polish bibliographers during the time when Belorussia was a part of Duchy of Lithuania (13-14c.) and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16-18c.). During 16-18 centuries, Polish bibliographers such as Shimon Stavropol’skii (Шимон Ставропольский), Кристоф Сандус (Christoph Sandus), and Юзеф Анджей Залусский (Yuzef Andzhei Zalusskii) treated Belorussian books as Polish, with one exception of Юзеф Анджей Залусский who included in his guide a separate section entitled “Lithuania and Belorussia.” In Imperial Russia, Belorussian books were often treated as part of Russian national heritage and, therefore, included in nation’s retrospective bibliographies. Prominent Russian bibliographers such as M. P. Pogodin, P. A. Gil’terbrantd,  A. I. Milovidov, and P. V. Valdimirov were authors of many a bibliographic guide devoted to Belorussian publications. Therefore, it is necessary for us to consider both Polish and Russian sources in the course of study of Belorussian bibliography.

Bibliography as a practice emerged in Belorussia as a result of larger developments in literacy, education, and science as well as the development of librarianship as a practice. First bibliographic records date back to 16th century. These were library catalogs compiled by specially trained staff in churches and monasteries. In the 16th century, annotations as a new bibliographic genre emerged in Belorussia. Francis Skoryna (1485-1552), Belorussian author and publisher, often supplied the books that he printed in Prague and Vilna with his own commentaries that are similar to modern annotations. In the 19th century, as bibliography evolved as a field, scholars in Poland and Russia created sophisticated records of Belorussian publications. However, the national bibliography as a specific genre consisting of recording all books published in Belorussia as well as books in Belorussian language did not emerge until the 20th century.

Below is a time-line highlighting important landmarks in the development of Belorussian bibliography:

IX c.

Bibliographic examples of Old Rus’:

  • “lists of true and false books”
  • individual libraries’ catalogs


Belorussia becomes  part of Duchy of Lithuania


Development of Belorussian nationality (narodnost’ )
Belorussian language becomes the official language of state affairs, law, and religion


Development of church and monastery libraries in Polotsk, Vilno, Minsk, Mogilev, Slutsk
Beginning of descriptive bibliography:  library catalogs began to record title, format, physical appearance characteristics(e.g. silver or gold jacket, etc.).


Book publishers S.  Budnyi (С. Будный ), V. Tiapinskii (В. Тяпинский) produced mostly translated works, which included detailed  commentaries / annotations usually placed in the beginning or the end of the book.


Francis Skroyna established printing presses in Prague and Vilno.
Skoryna’s publications:  translations of the Bible, “Apostle”, “Malaya podorozhnaia kniga”.  Most were supplied with Skoryna’s  his own “annotations,” usually at the beginning of the book.


Belorussia becomes a constituent part of Rech Pospolitaia (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth)
Polonization and Catholization of Belorussia begins:

  • Limited use of Belorussian language followed by official ban in 1696. Belorussian cannot be used  in state affairs or in print.
  • Burning of Belorussian manuscripts and printed books by Jesuits


Bibliographic records treated Belorussian books as Polish. Major examples Shimon Stavropol’skii, Christoph Sandus, and Yuzef Andzhei Zalusskii


As a result of the Three Partitions of Poland, Belorussian lands become part of the Russian Empire. This event led to the consolidation of national spirit, development of the Belorussian language, literature and printing, etc. It also contributed to the Russification of Belorussia. Russian becomes the official language of the land. By 1840, positions in state affairs, law, education were reserved for Russian nationals only. Belorussia is referred to as the “North West region” with Vilno as its capital.


40 printing presses exist in Belorussia
725 books printed
Genres include textbooks, fiction, reference, science, popular fiction.
School and university libraries play a prominent role, especially Vilno University.  Library catalogers develop new ways to help users search for resources :

  • inventory lists
  • handwritten alphabetical catalogs
  • card catalogs
  • subject catalogs

Development of retrospective bibliography

  • M. Pelka Polinskii (М. Пелка Полинский), author of retrospective bibliography of books and periodicals in Belorussia
  •  (1847) Список книг, вышедших в Белоруссии от возникновения книгопечатания до нашего времни. The List of Books Published in Belorussia from the Beginning of Printing till Present. (This work did not receive widespread use and is only available in manuscript form)

Development of recommedational subject bibliography

  • M. Pelka Polinskii  – physics, math, natural history, arithmetic
  • М. Borovskii  – history, geography, Polish rhetoric, Latin

History of Bibliography

  • A. Bogatkevitch (А. Богаткевич), I. Lelevel’ ( И. Лелевель) wrote about theory and methodology of bibliography


  • A. Rypinskii (А.Рыпинский)
  • Romual’d Podberezskii (Ромуальд  Подберезский) wrote  «Ян Борщевский и Белоруссия»

Retrospective subject bibliography

  • K. I. Grum-Grzhimaylo  (К.И. Грум-Гржимайло) – medicine

XIX, 1st half

Russian Sources

Continuous and systematic recording of Belorussian books was done by Russians.

В.С. Сопиков. Опыт российской библиографии. СПБ, 1813-1821, ч. I-V.
Sopikov, V. S. Opyt Rossiiskoi bibliografii ili polnyi slovar sochinenii i perevodov, napechatannykh na Slavenskom i Rossiiskom iazykakh ot nachala zavedeniia tipografii do 1813 goda….  Spb: Izdanie A. S. Suvorina. 1904-1908.
Described труды Л. Зизания, П. Бердыня, Ф. Скорины, also included documents, tales, religious literature. Includes annotations, provides quotations and tells where to find sources.

Polish Sources

  • S. Linde (С. Линде). О статусе Литовском. About the Lithuanian Statute.
  • F. Bentkovskii (Ф. Бентковский)
  • K. Estreicher
  • A. Joher (А. Йоxер)
  • M. Vishnevskii (М. Вишеневский)


XIX, 2nd half

Censorship by the Russians
Limited publishing in Belorussian
Tight control of Belorussian publications
Bibliographers, Russian: M.P. Pogodin, P. A. Gil’tebrandt, P. V. Vladimirov
Belorussian:  E.F. Karskii (Е.Ф. Карский), I. P. Karataev (И.П. Каратаев), Zh.M. Undol’skii (Ж.М.Ундольский)

E.F. Karskii founder of Belorussian philology, publisher of first bibliographic works devoted specifically to early books in Belorussian. His nine-volume work Belorusy (Белорусы) included bibliographic essays, literature reviews, bibliographic descriptions of old Belorussian manuscripts and other Belorussian publications.  Note:  Since only literary fiction as well as some essay-style books were published in Belorussian in the 19th century, Belorusy constitutes an almost complete overview of Belorussian works published in Belorussian language during that period.


Bibliographers, Russian: A. I. Milovidov
Belorussian:  Romual’d Zemkevitch (Ромуальд Земкевич)

  • attempted to compose a retrospective guide to all Belorussian books and literature about Belorussia
  • published  in Nasha Niva and its supplement Belarusskij Kalendar’
  • published in 1910 Belorusskaia bibliographiia, a bibliographic guide to  100 books in Cyrillic in XVI-XVIII centuries


3 directions in bibliographic work in Belorussian Republic:

  • Identification and bibliographic study of works related to Belorussia in all languages
  • Recording of all materials (including non-Belorussian works)  published in BSSR since 1917
  • Identification and bibliographic study of works in Belorussian language published before 1917


Knizhnaia Palata BSSR established in 1922
Continuous and systematic recording of Belorussian publications began