Historic book collections

Historical book collections form part of the furnishings of many castles, mansions and monasteries. Over 350 castle and mansion book collections have been preserved in the Czech lands, Bohemia and Silesia; between them they contain over 1 700 000 volumes. The National Heritage Institute manages a significant part of this collection, amounting to approximately 600 000 volumes.

Historic libraries

“Interior libraries“ preserved in their original spaces and bookcases, shelves and other furniture,  are a unique Czech feature. Their significance does not lie only in the number of mediaeval manuscripts, first editions and other valuable books they contain, but mainly in the fact that they provide a cultural picture of the period in which they arose, allowing us to trace its development, as well as the development of the social position and interests of families, individual owners and whole social strata.

Many of these historic libraries are in skeleton shape, but others have been preserved undamaged, despite the unfavourable conditions of the 1940s and 1950s. They usually form part of guided tour routes, sometimes as a whole, sometimes in part. In other cases they are hidden in depositories: this concerns most of the books that were brought from buildings nationalised after the Second World War. Their significance lies in the fact that they remained separated, as discrete collections. In other European countries such collections were put into central libraries, so that the individual books became scattered around their extensive collections.

Database of historical libraries

The National Heritage Institute is continuously creating and adding to a database of historical library collections, based on the revised one-line records in local catalogues but transferred into electronic form and with the addition of the book’s individual characteristics (binding, typographic description, indications of provenance…) and identificatory documentation. The cataloguing of 16th century prints has already been completed.

The web portal of the historic library collections allows not only the collections administered by the National Heritage Institute to be searched, but also the collections of the National Library, the National Museum Library, the Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, the South Bohemian Research Library and others.

It is possible to consult books from the historic libraries and use them for research on site. Because they are mostly immovable cultural monuments with limited access, however, such access needs to be arranged with the department for the administration of furnishings and libraries at the relevant heritage management branch of the National Heritage Institute.

Historic library collections