Foreign literature and periodicals

Size of the collection

The collection of foreign books encompasses 767,239 volumes. The collection of periodicals contains over 10,000 titles in 726,272 volumes. Over 650 titles are digitised and stored on CD ROM.


The history of the collection of foreign books and periodicals can be divided into three periods.

First period: from the establishment of the Library to the end of the Second World War.

At the heart of the collection of foreign literature are the donations given to the newly created national library by private individuals and charities, universities and other organizations. Publications in Russian, French, German, Serbian, Romanian, Greek and other languages enrich the library collections. Konstantin Irechek was the first who tried to define the parameters of the collections of foreign publications in the Library in his “Instruction for the Management of the Bulgarian National Library” /1884/. This document stated what had to be added to the Balkanika and Bulgarica collections: all classic works in the field of literature and science, as well as all major works in all fields of scientific study and reference books.

This initial period of development was characterized by inconsistency and spontaneity in the acquisition of foreign publications. The main reasons for this were the scarce financial resources, the complex economic and political environment (during this period Bulgaria participated in several wars that led to economic catastrophes). A significant part of the foreign books was destroyed during the bombing raids over Sofia in World War II.

At the end of the Second World War 50,000 volumes of the total of 159,000 library holdings  were in foreign languages. Only 3% of the holdings are monographs and 8% – reference books.

The random development of the foreign books collection continued for several years after the end of the war. The applied acquisition and collection development criteria were suitable for public libraries. The acquisition of children’s books, fiction and educational literature was in multiple copies. The ambition to enlarge the collection in quantity was evident. Very little attention was paid to foreign periodicals.

Second period: from the end of the Second World War to 1989.

What is essential for this period is the development of science-based criteria for the development of foreign books and periodicals collection after a lengthy discussion about the departmental nature of the collection as a whole. Two standpoints emerged:

  • The book collection should be universal, i.e. to collect books from all areas of knowledge, including technical, medical and agricultural;
  • To give preference to literature on social and political issues while at the same time collect everything valuable in the other areas of knowledge, with the exception of narrowly specialized literature.
  • The understanding that the library collections were universal prevailed. The aim was to obtain all most significant and valuable academic and reference books in European languages.
  • The approach toward collecting foreign periodicals was similar. Originally, this collection was small and by the mid-1950s it contained 500 titles. Taking into account the importance of the scientific serials as a source of new knowledge, the library staff gradually collected more scientific periodicals from various fields of knowledge. The collection of publications on technology, agriculture and medicine became more comprehensive.

In the late 1960s, the development concept of the collections of books and periodicals was formed. The emphasis was put on the need for coordinated efforts of all scientific libraries to acquire the most valuable scientific journals at the National Library. The National Library, as a universal scientific library, through its collections should represent the unity and integration between the sciences and the new interdisciplinary scientific fields. With regard to scientific literature, the Library continued to collect monographs, history of individual sciences and capital works in different scientific fields.

The concept was based on the UNESCO programme for universal access to information and knowledge and its requirement for each country to build a national collection of foreign literature. It also followed the already established trend in literary collections development of most European national libraries as major universal libraries of their countries.

During this period the selection and acquisition of foreign publications was based on strong ideological criteria. For example the requirements for scientific validity and relevance of the periodicals were not respected for the Russian publications, among which there were many propaganda materials, socio-political and popular scientific periodicals.

In the 1960s and 1980s, foreign periodicals were purchased at a very fast pace. Their size grew considerably and reached over 10,000 titles. Periodicals in the field of natural and technical sciences prevailed. This was due to the rapid scientific and technical progress and the role assigned to the library in this development process. The requirements for scientific excellence and perspective of the periodicals have been strictly respected. For example, in the early 1970s, the periodicals in English were more than in Russian.

A reference system in the selection of books and periodicals was introduced. A main collection of scientific periodicals was created and the opinion of specialists from foreign information centres was taken into consideration in the process. One of the criteria for the acquisition of a journal or miscellany was to be referenced in at least 5 foreign reputable reference magazines.

At that time the development of international book exchange began as one of the best ways to collect foreign publications, particularly those with limited distribution. In the late 1980s, the National Library had established about 1,000 partnerships in international interlibrary loan from around the world.

Third period: after 1990

 Bulgaria’s transition to a market economy and the accompanying economic crisis had a strong impact on the acquisition of foreign language literature. The acquisitions budget decreased drastically. The collections of foreign books and periodicals underwent substantial changes in the effort to deideologise the acquisition approach. On the basis of a careful secondary selection, the foreign books and continuing editions were cleared of unnecessary multiple copies of propaganda literature in Russian and other languages, children’s literature, etc. As a result the collection size decreased.

The financial stagnation on the one hand and the stabilisation of the central scientific libraries on the territory of Sofia on the other, required a rethinking of the universal development of the collection of foreign books and periodicals. The National Library reduced the acquisition of agricultural, technical and medical literature. The number of acquired books and periodicals was drastically reduced. The periodicals suffered the most drastic decline – in 2002 there were 8,000 foreign titles less than in 1989.

The international book exchange became the main way of acquiring foreign books and continuing editions. Of great importance for the enrichment of the collections were the donations.

There was a tendency for enrichment of the collections with new media such as electronic documents on CD ROM and floppy disks.

Content and structure

The acquisition of classical works in foreign languages in the fields of science, culture and literature is given the highest priority as well as books that received reputable international and national awards; scientific reports from scientific congresses and symposiums; Bulgarica, Balkanika and Slavica collections, first editions of works of classic and contemporary authors. Foreign publications are collected in one copy in the original language. The acquired publications are in the most common languages: English, German, Russian, French, the languages of the Balkans and Slavic languages. Publications in rare language are translated into one of the European languages. The largest part of the collection (45%), is literature in Russian, followed by literature in German (16.6%), in English (15.4%), in French (6.95%), and in other languages (15.8%). 

Priority areas for the acquisition of foreign books and periodicals are: mathematics, philosophy, social sciences, law, economics, politics, sociology, international relations, history /mostly modern and contemporary history/, culture, science, library studies, bibliographical studies and scientific information, book studies, country studies, language studies, art studies, linguistics, literary studies and fiction. Considerable attention is paid to interdisciplinary scientific areas such as sociolinguistics, cognitive sciences, anthropology, politics, etc.

Catalogues, inventories, publications

The collections of foreign books and periodicals are registered in the following catalogues:

  •  Traditional card catalogues of the library holdings and the union catalogues of the main scientific libraries collections.
  •  Automated digital foreign books catalogue /since 1992/, accessible through the library website;
  •  Automated union catalogues of foreign periodicals (since 1984) and foreign books (since 1995) of the major scientific libraries accessible via the library’s website
  •  “Foreign Periodicals in the main scientific libraries in Bulgaria” – a printed catalogue of the foreign periodicals published since 1900
  •  “Bulletin of the newly acquired books in foreign languages” /since 1954, 12 books annually/ – printed edition in two specialized series: Series А. Social and human sciences; Series B. Natural and applied sciences. Medicine. Technique. Agriculture.
  •  Alphabetical catalogue of the books in Latin, acquired by the St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library for the period 1878-1977: A-C in 3 volumes, Sofia, National Library, 1981-1983.
  • The foreign documents are filed in the following catalogues:
  • Traditional card catalogues and card indexes of the main collections
  • Union catalogues of the collections of the main scientific libraries in Sofia, in two series – 1944-1979 ; 1980-2007
  • Printed catalogues: “Alphabetical catalogue of the books in Latin”, acquired by the St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library for the period 1878-1977: Volume 1 – 15 – Sofia: St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library; 1981-1991

“Foreign periodicals in the major scientific libraries in Bulgaria”, covering the period from 1900 to 2005– automated catalogues

Foreign periodicals in foreign Cyrillic alphabet (1984 – 2007)
Foreign periodicals in Latin (1984 – 2007)
Foreign periodicals in foreign Cyrillic alphabet (1995-2007)
Foreign periodicals in Latin (1995-2007)


Darakov, Y. State of the Book collections. // Notifications of the State Library “Vasil Kolarov” 1954, 1956, p. 31-51,  Dukmedzhiev, Y. Principles of acquisition of foreign/non soviet periodicals at the National Library and methods of selection. // Notifications of the State Library “Vasil Kolarov”, 1955, 1957, p. 69-87; Skobtsova S. Importance and profile of St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library. // Notifications of the State Library “Vasil Kolarov”, ХХІ, 1993, p. 51-55. Spassova, M. Analysis of the book collections of the State Library “Vasil Kolarov” in terms of basic works and reference books. // Notifications of the State Library “Vasil Kolarov”, 1960/61, 1963, p. 57-162


The collections of foreign books and periodicals are accessible to all patrons of the library without restriction only in the reading rooms.

For readers from the country, the use is through the interlibrary loan system.