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From Russia, With Love

Russia has said a great many things about the United States: “an Eden for working women,” “a fabulous land,” “our most dangerous competitor in the field of world trade,” “a source of ideas about industrial organization.” Robert V. Allen (1923 – 1991) was a Russian/Soviet area specialist in the European Division of the Library who spent his career doing exhaustive research using pre-revolutionary Russian publications to ultimately produce “Russia Looks at America: The View to 1917.” The book was published by the Library in 1988 and essentially interprets for American readers how the Russians viewed the U.S. from the mid-18th century until the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

Russian and American flags in front of the moon Town of Kem

Newly made available online, the digitized book is presented as a searchable PDF and also employs page-turner technology, allowing readers to virtually turn to the page or chapter of their choosing.

The Library’s Russian collection is by far the largest and most comprehensive outside Russia itself. The institution currently holds some 700,000 physical volumes (books, sets, continuations and bound periodicals) in Russian, and approximately the same number of volumes in other languages of the former USSR and volumes in Western languages about Russia and the former Soviet Union. There are also significant collections of other non-book print materials (music scores, newspapers, microforms and cartographic materials) and non-print materials (sound recordings, motion pictures, manuscripts, photographs and posters). In addition to materials published in Russia and the former Soviet Union, the Library’s collections are very strong in émigré Russian language publications—produced in the major publishing centers of Western Europe, North America and Israel by the several waves of emigration from Russia—and in English- and other Western-language materials about Russia, much of it received on a comprehensive basis for the past 120 years as a result of American copyright deposit laws or extensive blanket orders and approval plans for the Western European countries.

The major impetus for the development of a major Russian collection at the Library was the purchase in 1906 of the Yudin Collection, a private collection of almost 100,000 volumes assembled over a lifetime by Gennadii Vasil'evich Yudin of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and at that time the largest private library in Russia.

The Library is also the repository for the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, some 1,800 negatives featuring Imperial Russia taken by photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) from 1907 to 1915. Prokudin-Gorskii , a pioneer in the field of color photography, embarked on a photographic survey of Russia in1907 and was commissioned by Czar Nicholas II in 1909 to record the vastness, diversity and development of the Russian Empire. His unique images of Russia on the eve of revolution were recorded as three separate images on one glass plate and exposed in rapid succession through three different color filters. The Library has scanned the glass plates, and through an innovative process known as digichromatography, brilliant color images have been produced. The May 2001 issue of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin features an article on the life and work of the innovative Russian photographer.

The Library also hosts a bilingual, multimedia English-Russian digital library that tells the story of the American exploration and settlement of the West, the parallel exploration and settlement of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and the meeting of the Russian-American frontier in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The European Reading Room is the primary public access point for readers and researchers seeking to use the vast European collections of the Library. There you can find a general overview of the Russian collections.

A. Russian and American flags in front of the moon. 1967. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction information not available.

B. Town of Kem. General view. 1915. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction Nos.: LC-DIG-prokc-20333 (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.), LC-DIG-prok-10333 (detail of digital file showing single frame from glass neg.), LC-DIG-prok-00333 (digital file from glass neg.); Call No.: LC-P87- 2132[P&P]