Mezinárodní organizace divadelních knihoven, muzeí, archivů a dokumentačních středisek

Theatralia in the Municipal Library of Prague


The first public library in Prague opened on 1st July 1891 and has in a sense continued the activities of society libraries of the second half of the 19th century. “The Public Municipal Library of the King’s City of Prague” was established on the basis of a municipal ordinance as a library for all citizens of Prague. The municipal library was first based on Na Zderaze street, however in 1903 it was relocated to the corner of Platnérská street and Mariánské náměstí in the Old City of Prague, i.e. where the current Central Library building is located. From the beginning, the original Central Library building was inadequate to the needs of the Prague book network. The Municipal Insurance Company of Prague agreed to help the library and provided financial means for a new building – and so between 1925 and 1928 a new building was designed by František Roith and constructed on Mariánské náměstí. This was the first purpose-built library building in the Czechoslovak Republic and at the same time one of the most modern buildings in Europe, sized to accommodate a wide variety of library, concert, education and exhibition activities. Extensive and modern storage facilities allowed dynamic growth of the library collection.
The theatre and film section of the Municipal Library of Prague was opened on 1st November 1942. Its operation began paradoxically during one of the hardest periods for the Czech nation – during German occupation and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The period was also characteristic of a fresh interest in Czech theatre and film. The inauguration ceremony was attended by many celebrities of that time, such as Adina Mandlová, Růžena Šlemrová, Hana Vítová, Blanka Waleská, actor František Vnouček, film critic Bedřich Rádl, violin virtuoso Jaroslav Kocian and many others.
Currently the theatre and film section is one of the specialized sections of the Municipal Library of Prague; it was opened on 20th April 1998 after full automation and renovation of the library and matches the original architecture. On 8th June 1993 the theatre and film section of the Municipal Library of Prague joined SIBMAS, the international organization of theatre libraries and museums, and it is also represented in the Dramaturgical Society since February 1997.
The purpose of the theatre and film section of the Municipal Library of Prague is to provide reader services from the areas of dramaturgy, costume design, film, radio and television. When it opened, its collection only contained 1 865 manuscripts, however now this has increased to approximately 60 000 manuscripts, including circa 20 000 manuscripts of Czech and foreign plays, 1 000 film and television scripts, 3 000 volumes of theatre, film, television and radio journals and 36 000 volumes of secondary and specialized literature on the history of theatre, film and other aforementioned areas.
The structure of the collection has changed proportionately to the changes in Czechoslovak society. The first official intervention occurred in 1940 by the then Minister of Education Emanuel Moravec and the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Still, most of the collection was saved with the silent consent of the Czech police. Further purges continued after February 1948, when a so-called “purging committee” was established and in total was responsible for the removal of almost 124 000 manuscripts from its establishment to 31st December 1952. The last notable external intervention was the purge of various pieces of literature during the so-called normalization era based on the Directive on special collections of the Ministry of Culture in 1972. This purge focused especially on work from the sixties, mainly by foreign authors and those who have emigrated. In total 1 700 works were purged.

Despite these repeated external interferences, the structure of the theater and film section collection was essentially preserved. The base of this collection with substantial historical value is formed by texts of Czech plays from the 19th century and 1st half of the 20th century, which are located in the storage facilities of the Central library on Mariánské náměstí and include the first editions of plays by famous as well as less known playwrights and translators. The oldest of these are from the 1st half of the 19th century and include plays of Jan Nepomuk Štěpánek, Václav Kliment Klicpera, Josef Kajetán Tyl, Matěj Kopecký and others. The collection of international plays includes first and foremost the work of William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller in their first Czech translations. Another valuable part of the collection are the first editions of work by famous authors from the thirties of the 20th century: the Čapek brothers, František Langer, Fráňa Šrámek, Vítězslav Nezval and comedies by Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich. Based on a resolution for protecting the collection, it is only allowed to borrow theatre plays which appeared in type before 1920 on site.

A portion of plays published before 1860 was moved to the new section of precious manuscripts on Ortenovo náměstí after 1989. Original plays in foreign languages (the oldest being Molière’s The Misanthrope from 1749, Racin’s Alexander the Great from 1779 and plays by Shakespeare and Schiller translated by Karel Ignác Thám from the eighties of the 18th century) and original Czech play manuscripts from the first half of the 19th century have been provided proper placement and care by specialists. The collection was located in the relative safety of air conditioned areas with a special depository and strict borrowing conditions until the Prague floods of 2002, which also affected the section of precious manuscripts. Approximately 800 plays were damaged and the restoration efforts comprised several distinct methods (drying in wood dryers, in vacuum packs and the vacuum chamber in the National Library of the Czech Republic) and took several years. After the section was moved to another building in 2004 the whole department and section of precious manuscripts was renovated thanks to several donations (improvements include restoration workshops, air conditioned depositories and a cataloguing centre). Now in cooperation with the restoration section of the National Library the saved precious manuscripts (including plays) are gradually being restored.

Another manner of preserving historically valuable work in the collection of the Municipal Library of Prague is digitization. The Municipal Library of Prague has long been pursuing a digitization centre. In 2005 a unique opportunity arose – the idea could be developed as a project in the Financial Mechanisms of the European Economic Area and Norway. The project was named HISPRA – Preservation of historical Pragensia and other rare documents from the collection of the Municipal Library of Prague. After a tough approval process in the fall of 2006, the project was accepted for realization. The project is planned for 4 years with the possibility of continuation and a budget of 507 740 EUR. In November 2007 the Municipal Library of Prague began the digitization process for precious and historical manuscripts in its new centre. In the first year the department of digitization focused on processing approximately 1 000 pragensia, and in 2009-2010 1200 plays were digitized. The selection includes not only the most popular play manuscripts (medieval plays, Czech and foreign plays) and film scripts (the new film wave) but also significant historical and theoretical work from these areas and certain theatre and film magazines (“Divadlo” from the sixties of the 20th century and others).

In conclusion we state that the goal of this contribution is to document how the Municipal Library of Prague takes care of its collection and makes sure that rare plays are preserved for future generations, thus adopting the mission connecting all participants of this international conference: To keep the memories of theatre alive.
Mgr. Marie Valtrová, head of the theatre and film section of the Municipal Library of Prague

Mgr. Helena Pinkerová, theatrologist