Vilnius University Library

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Vilnius University Library
Vub logo.jpg
Country Lithuania
Type Academic library
Established 1579 (1579)
Location Universiteto g. 3, Vilnius
Coordinates 54°40′58″N 25°17′16″E / 54.68278°N 25.28778°E / 54.68278; 25.28778Coordinates: 54°40′58″N 25°17′16″E / 54.68278°N 25.28778°E / 54.68278; 25.28778
Branch of Vilnius University
Items collected books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, maps, prints, drawings and manuscripts
Access and use
Members Students and fellows of Vilnius University
Other information
Director Irena Krivienė

Vilnius University Library or VU Library (also VUL) is the oldest and one of the largest academic libraries of Lithuania. It was founded in 1570 by the Jesuits and as such is nine years older than Vilnius University. VU Library holds 5.4 million documents on shelves measuring 166 kilometres (103 mi) in length. The holdings, accessible to members of the university and wider public, include some of the oldest manuscripts, incunabula and engravings in Lithuania and Eastern Europe. As of 2010, the library has 28,420 users.

VU Central Library is located in the Old Town of Vilnius near the Presidential Palace of Lithuania. The central library has 20 branch libraries that serve the needs of faculties and centers of Vilnius University.[1] The central library has a lending room, 13 reading rooms, 3 halls for group work. Some of the rooms are located in historical halls with great artistic and architectural value. The architectural ensemble of Vilnius University attracts more than 10,000 tourists from Lithuania and other countries annually.


Jesuit Order[edit]

Invited by Bishop of Vilnius Walerian Protasewicz, the Jesuits came to Vilnius in 1569. On July 17, 1570, they established a college and a library. The core of the library consisted of the collections of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund Augustus and suffragan bishop of Vilnius Georg Albinius. The library of Sigismund Augustus contained the best of classical works, travelogues, historical books, chronicles, and literature on natural science, law, military, and medicine published in the 16th century. It included the Bible translated by Martin Luther, works by Euclid and Claudius Ptolemaeus, the first edition of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus, and many other works.

Privileges issued by King Stephen Báthory on April 1, 1579, converted the Vilnius Jesuit College into a university, and the library into a university library. In 1580 Bishop Protasewicz bequeathed several thousand books to the library upon his death. Many of Lithuania's clergy and the nobility also donated books to the library.

During the 200 years of Jesuit rule at the university, the library collection grew from 4,500 volumes (in 1570) to 11,000 volumes (in 1773). A series of wars, fires and plunders prevented the library from growing further and a great many of its books ended up in libraries in Russia, Poland, Sweden and elsewhere.

After the Jesuit Order was abolished in 1773, the Commission of National Education took on custody of the Vilnius University. In 1781 the University was renamed Head School of Lithuania. Its academic course altered, and the library fund was replenished with books on natural science and medicine.

Russian Empire[edit]

After the Third Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, the greater portion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including its capital Vilnius, became part of the Russian Empire. In 1803 the Head School of Lithuania was renamed the Vilnius Imperial University. By the 1820s, Vilnius University ranked among the leading universities in the Russian Empire; the revival of academic research had a positive effect on the library as well. In 1804 professor Gottfried Ernest Groddeck was appointed the head of the library. He succeeded in making it accessible to the public. A Lending Department was opened in 1815, and university staff and students, officials of the educational districts, and gymnasium teachers were allowed to borrow books. The library was moved to the Small Aula, which had a ninety-seat reading room. Groddeck initiated the compilation of an alphabetic and later a systemic card catalog. Compared with other libraries in the Russian Empire, the Vilnius University Library had attained the most advanced European standards at that time.

After the November Uprising, Tsar Nicolas I closed the university on May 1, 1832. A large part of library's collection was taken from Vilnius and distributed to various academic institutions in Russia. There were unsuccessful attempts 1834 to establish a public library with the remaining books from the university library. In 1856 the Antiquities Museum and a reading room began to function under the auspices of the Archaeological Commission. In 1865 they were converted into the Vilnius Public Library and Museum. The library was given nearly 200,000 volumes of valuable books and manuscripts from the collections of schools, cloisters, and private libraries that had been closed after uprisings in 1831 and 1863. By 1914 the Vilnius Public Library contained more than 300,000 books and ranked 4th among the libraries in the Russian Empire. It was devastated during World War I, and books were once again transported to Russia.

After World War I[edit]

Vilnius University was reopened by Poles on October 11, 1919, and renamed in honor of Stephen Báthory. Though it had been plundered, the library retained a fairly large collection. During World War II, the library suffered again from plunder and fire. The destroyed university and its library needed rapid restoration after the war. Reading rooms were installed and bibliographical activities soon organized. The library managed to retrieve approximately 13,000 of its valuable publications.

The Vilnius University Library witnessed the following significant events during the period of 1945–1990: the 400th anniversary of the library and the university (in 1970 and 1979 accordingly), the building of two new book depositories, and founding of new departments. The early book collections needed restoration, and Jurgis Tornau, then director of the library, undertook to establish the Department of Restoration in 1968. The library acquired the Department of Graphic Arts in 1969. At the end of the 1960s a decision was made to safeguard integral collections from various donors in the main library depository.

After regaining Lithuania independence[edit]

The library has been equipped with a computerized catalog since 1993, accessible via the Internet since 1994. In 1999, the library began a digital project to preserve its unique holdings – digitization of old books and manuscripts of the 16th–19th centuries (land and castle court books of various districts in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) and release them on CDs. In 2000 VU Library together with other Lithuanian libraries started to subscribe to various databases, and EBSCO, a universal database of full-text documents, came first. In 2005 for the first time in Lithuania academic libraries history, the information centre "Odysseus" for people with disabilities was opened.

A competition for a memorial site at the Vilnius University Library, which had been announced on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the first Lithuanian book, was won by artist Jonas Meškelevičius (1950–2005), who submitted a project for a commemorative doorway to the library. The official unveiling of the memorial – double doors immortalizing images of major events in the history of Lithuanian culture and of the university – took place on May 21, 2001.

Leaders of the library[edit]

VU Library leaders:

  • Jonas Hėjus (till 1575)
  • Laurynas Rydzevskis (1756–1757)
  • Stanislovas Rostovskis (1765–1765)
  • Juozas Pažovskis (1778–1787)
  • Tadeušas Mackievičius (1787–1792)
  • Rapolas Litvinskis (1792–1799)
  • Augustinas Tomaševskis (1805) – adjunct
  • Fransua de la Žumeljė (1807) – adjunct
  • Gotfrydas Ernestas Grodekas (1804–1825)
  • Liudvikas Sobolevskis (1826–1830)
  • Pavelas Kukolnikas (1830–1832)
  • Aleksejus Vladimirovas (1866–1869)
  • Jakovas Golovackis (1871–1888)
  • Julijanas Kračkovskis (1888–1902)
  • Flavianas Dobrianskis (1902–1913)
  • Dmitrijus Daugėla (1913–1915)
  • Eduardas Volteris (1919)
  • Steponas Henrikas Rygielis (1924–1929)
  • Adomas Gracijonas Lysakovskis (1930–1939)
  • Vaclovas Biržiška (1940–1941)
  • Elena Eimaitytė-Kačinskienė (1941, 1943 – leader at interim)
  • Juozas Baldžius (1944–1946)
  • Marija Burokienė (1946–1948 – leader at interim)
  • Levas Vladimirovas (1948–1964)
  • Stasė Vaidinauskaitė-Vaškelienė (1964–1968)
  • Jurgis Tornau (1968–1985)
  • Birutė Butkevičienė (1985–2006; from September 2006 till September 2008 – director for Science and Cultural Heritage)
  • Prof. Audronė Glosienė (General Director from September 2006 till January 2009)
  • Irena Krivienė (Director for Economics and Development from September 2006 till March 2009. From March 2009 - Director General)
  • dr. Marija Prokopčik (Director of Information and Cultural Heritage Activities from September 2008)
  • Jūratė Kuprienė (Director for Economics and Development from January 2010)

Organization and structure[edit]

Sidabrinė (Silver) reading room, HIC
Žalioji (Emerald green) periodical reading room, HIC
The Lithuanian Reading Room
The Cabinet of Jurgis Lebedys

The Humanistics Information Centre (HIC) opened on September 7, 2007. The centre consists of 4 premises:[2]

  • Sidabrinė (Silver) (reading room). Modern publications on humanities, books and journals on principal humanitarian and interdisciplinary studies are arranged in open stacks. Mediatecque.
  • Apelsininė (Orange) (a room for group work). For reservation.
  • Riešutinė (Nut-brown) (information technologies laboratory). For reservation.
  • Žalioji (Emerald green) (periodical reading room). Journals on politics, culture and art published in Lithuania and abroad are arranged in open stacks.

The Lithuanian Reading Room was opened in 2008 after reconstructing premises of the Vilnius University Library. There are two rooms – the Lithuanian Reading Room and Cabinet of Jurgis Lebedys. The Lithuanian Reading Room collects Lithuanian periodic from 1918 till 1939, research documents about Lithuanian history, geography, culture and art, etc. The Cabinet of Lebedys houses material for the studies of Lithuanian language and literature. The cabinet can be reserved for lectures or seminars.

The Rare Book Department has accumulated over 160,000 items from the 15th through 21st centuries. It is the largest depository of old books in Lithuania and rivals the most famous libraries of Eastern Europe by its significance. The collection contains: the largest collections of incunabula and post-incunabula in Lithuania; books from the 16th to 18th centuries; the richest in the world collection of old Lithuanian books (including the first Lithuanian book by Martynas Mažvydas, Katekizmas by Mikalojus Daukša, works by Baltramiejus Vilentas); especially valuable old atlases and maps; book collection of the Old Vilnius University Library – Bibliotheca Academiae Vilnensis (it includes books from collections of Sigismund August, Sapieha family, Georg Albinius, Walerian Protasewicz, M. Pacas, E. Valavičius and university professors).[3]

The Manuscript Department contains more than 265,000 documents, divided into 301 archival collections of smaller or larger scope: Vilnius University, Vytautas the Great University in Kaunas, editorial boards, societies and institutions, church institutions, collections compiled by the department and personal collections.[3] The earliest document – a land donation – is dated 1209. Documents were written in Lithuanian, Latin, Polish, Chancery Slavonic, Russian, German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Swedish and other languages. Documents are important for research of Vilnius University, development of different fields of science, university's relations with other higher schools of Central and Eastern Europe, history of science and culture of the Lithuanian state and neighboring countries.

The Graphic Arts Cabinet compiles various graphic works since the beginning of the 19th century when in 1805 the Department of Engraving and the Study of Graphics were established at the university. Major part of the collection comprises old graphics (about 12,000 items) dating back to 16th–19th centuries – artworks of Lithuanian, Russian, Polish artists and other painters from European countries.[3] As of 2009, the Department of Graphic Arts holds over 91,000 artworks.

The Museum of Sciences, founded in 1973, compiles, processes and actualizes visual scientific material about historical Vilnius University. The Museum is housed in the premises of St. John's Church. Especially valuable is the collection of coins of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including 12th–15th-century silver alloys – the so-called Lithuanian ilgieji (Lithuanian Long Bars) from Ribiškė hoard, roubles of Veliky Novgorod, grivnas of Kievan Rus'. Museum's holdings also include large collections of Polish, Russian old coins.[3]

The Museum of Adam Mickiewicz compiles, systematizes, stores, and investigates material related to Adam Mickiewicz, his creative work and activities. Most valuable museum's exhibits are personal possessions of the poet: a small table, a chair and an arm-chair used by the poet when he lived in Kaunas and Paris. At present the museum displays more than 200 exhibits and has a small library.

The Philosophy Reading Room was opened in 2010 after reconstructing premises of the Vilnius University Library. The Philosophy Reading Room moved from the Faculty of Philosophy. It was the start of the integration of faculty libraries into the main buildings of Vilnius University library. The Philosophy Reading Room consists of 4 rooms, equipped with 40 individual and 11 computerized workstations. In open stacks - Educology, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, Social work and Medicine studies literature.

The Newspapers Reading Room was opened in 2010 after the reconstruction of main building. The Newspapers reading room is in the second floor next to the Philosophy reading room at the end of the corridor. You may find the latest authorized newspapers. There are plenty historical newspapers such as: „7 meno dienos“, „Atgimimas“, „Dialogas“, „Dienovidis“, „Lietuvos rytas“, „Lietuvos žinios“, „Literatūra ir menas“, „Mokslo Lietuva“, „Šiaurės Atėnai“, „Tremtinys“, „Voruta“, „XXI amžius“.

Oriental reading room was opened in 2011. The Oriental reading room is established in the Library premises, that have not been used up to now. They are architecturally rather complicated however also most interesting and highest-situated part of the Library. This reading room is the most silence place in the library. The Oriental reading room collection includes Research and studies in Asian languages, cultures, religions, philosophy, anthropology and art history releases, publications in original languages, fiction in foreign languages, Alfred Binder oriental collection.

Architecture of historical halls[edit]

Hall of Pranciškus Smuglevičius[edit]

Hall of Pranciškus Smuglevičius

The Hall of Pranciškus Smuglevičius is the oldest part of the original library complex, named after Franciszek Smuglewicz (1745–1807), celebrated painter and professor of the university. Until the end of the 18th century, the hall was used as a refectory. In 1803 it was assigned to the library and artist Smuglewicz was hired to decorate it. The painter adhered to the spirit of Classicism; between the windows and on the walls he painted the portraits of the 12 most prominent figures in antique art and science: Socrates, Plutarch, Pindar, Anacreon, Hesiod, Heraclitus, Aristotle, Euripides, Diogenes, Homer, Archimedes and Plato. From then on the hall was used for various ceremonies and celebrations.[4] Adam Mickiewicz was granted his diploma here in 1819. Prominent guests including Napoleon, Tsar Alexander II, and others have visited this hall.

In 1855 the hall was assigned to the Antiquities Museum of the Vilnius Provisional Archaeology Commission and, when the commission was closed in 1865, to the Public Library of Vilnius.[5] Over time hall's functions changed and in 1867 painter Vasilii Griaznov replaced its classical tones with pseudo-Byzantine ornamentation. The hall was refurbished in 1929 and restored to the version by Smuglewicz. During the works, a 16th– or 17th-century fresco of Mary enveloping the founders of the old university was uncovered on the ceiling. Since then the Hall of Smuglevičius has retained its appearance with furniture from the time of the Public Library of Vilnius. At present the hall is used by the Department of Rare Publications.

Hall of Joachim Lelewel[edit]

Hall of Joachim Lelewel

At first the hall was an almost square chapel with a vaulted ceiling, rising upwards through the second and third floors. The centre of the vaults was taken up by a panel with a painted portrait of St. Stanislaus Kostka, the guardian of students. The chapel was built in the middle of the 18th century according to designs of Tomas Žebrauskas. After the dissolution of the Jesuit Order the hall was used by the Department of Paintings. The hall was divided into two floors during the first quarter of the 19th century. For a long time the third floor was home to the Art Department, and the workplace of famous artist Jan Rustem. In 1929, professor Joachim Lelewel bequeathed a valuable collection of books and atlases to the library; they were transferred from Kurniki to this hall, which was then named in his honour and commemorative exhibition was arranged.[6]

White Hall (old observatory)[edit]

The White Hall

The history of the White Hall is part of the history of the old observatory (founded in 1753) of the Vilnius University. The observatory was designed and built by Lithuanian architect and astronomer, VU professor, Tomas Žebrauskas. Funds for the building were donated by Ignacy Ogiński and his daughter Elżbieta Ogińska-Puzynina, whose particularly generous contribution of 200,000 Polish złoty gained her the title of the observatory patron.[5]

The observatory was composed of the White Hall, the Small Hall, two slender three-storey square towers, and two small single-storey towers. Six massive Baroque pillars, girded with ornamental cornices divide the White Hall into three parts. An oval opening in ceiling appears to connect the White Hall with the Small Hall above it, and thereby conveys the Baroque concept of infinite space. A remarkable portrait of King Stanisław August Poniatowski is positioned in the centre of the tympanum. The portrait is surmounted by allegorical figures of the sitting women representing Diana and Urania. Diana holds a portrait of benefactress Elżbieta Ogińska-Puzynina, while Uriana has a wreath of stars in her hands.[4]

At the end of the 18th century, Marcin Odlanicki Poczobutt built an extension to the observatory, designed by architect Marcin Knackfus in the Classical style. The extension housed a large quadrant and other instruments. The White Hall contained not only astronomical equipment but also a valuable library with works on astronomy, mathematics, physics, geography, architecture, and other subjects taught at the university. The books were kept in 12 cupboards in niches between the windows. The hall was decorated with approximately 30 oil paintings of prominent individuals and university scholars. The observatory was seriously damaged by fire in 1876 and closed in 1883. During the time of the Public Library of Vilnius, the White Hall was used as a book depository. It was reopened in 1997 after 10-year renovation. A unique collection of ancient astronomical instruments, including globes made in Amsterdam in 1622 as well as globes made in 1750 and dedicated to King Stanisław August Poniatowski, is displayed in the White Hall. Now it houses the Professor's Reading Room and plans are made to arrange a museum of the university's history.

Philology Reading Room[edit]

Philology reading room

The Philology Room occupies the second floor above the Hall of Smuglevičius. At first the room was the assembly hall of the Jesuit Academy, later it was converted into a library. When the library was transferred to the present Small Aula in 1819, the room housed a museum of mineralogy. After the university was closed, the hall belonged to the Museum of Antiquities from 1855 to 1865. In 1945, the hall was converted into the General Reading Room for the Vilnius University Library.[5] The hall has once again been newly restored, according to a project by architect Aldona Švabauskienė. The parquet floor was restored according to thesurviving samples from the mid-19th century. The 17th-century vaults have been preserved, but their decorations of plaster-work were painted over at the beginning of the 20th century, and now the room is devoid of embellishments. In the end of 2010 the hall was converted into the Philology Reading Room.

Professors' Reading Room[edit]

The Professors' Reading Room

The hall used to serve as the Jesuits' summer residence. In the 18th century it was decided to adapt the hall to the needs of the library. A frieze with floral ornaments was discovered under a layer of plaster during a restoration in 1919. The design of its wooden coffered ceiling by architect Karol Podczaszyński was discovered after a fire in 1969.[6] It was renovated by Ferdynand Ruszczyc, a professor of the university. The hall's Classical decor and its original grey colour was restored in 1970.

National Open Access Scientific Communication and Information Center[edit]

National Open Access Scientific Communication and Information Center

Two book depositories were built in 1970–1982, but space had once again become a problem in the late 1980s. In 1989, a project for a new library building in the Saulėtekis Valley was announced. However, no funds had been allocated for the construction. In 2004 the university revisited the project of the library building and a new, modern vision was prepared by 2006. The construction started in 2010.

The new center is planned in the academic cluster in the Saulėtekis Valley. At present, the valley houses four faculties of Vilnius University, several departments of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, and residential dormitories of both universities. It is planned to move several other faculties of Vilnius University and other scientific institutes of Lithuania to the valley. Hopes are that the new academic cluster will also attract business enterprises. The center will be the first construction in the valley, kicking off its further development.


  1. ^ fakultetų ir centrų
  2. ^ Vilniaus universiteto biblioteka: 2007 metų veiklos ataskaita, retrieved 2009-03-10 
  3. ^ a b c d Vilniaus universiteto bibliotekos istoriniai rinkiniai, archived from the original on 2009-03-07, retrieved 2009-03-24 
  4. ^ a b Vilniaus universiteto rūmai. Teksto autorė: Audronė Mačiulytė-Kasperavičienė ; sudarytojai: M. Sakalauskas, A. Stravinskas ; redakcinė komisija: J. Kubilius (pirmininkas) ... [et al.]. Vilnius : Vaga, 1979. 112 p. 
  5. ^ a b c Vilniaus universiteto architektūrinis ansamblis, retrieved 2009-03-24 
  6. ^ a b Bulotaitė, Nijolė (2007), Vilnius university, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, p. 36 

External links[edit]