Libri Prohibiti is a library that collects prohibited or banned books, as well as samizdat, located in Prague, Czech Republic. Opened in 1990, Libri Prohibiti is a nonprofit, private, independent organization. The collection of more than 20,000 monographs and periodicals, about 1,800 reference resources, and over 3,000 audiovisual resources is maintained and run by Jiří Gruntorád.
Libri Prohibiti is located at Senovazne namesti 2, Prague 1, on the first floor. The hours of operation are from one o’clock to five o’clock, Monday through Thursday. Libri Prohibiti is open and free to all visitors. All the traditional services of a library are provided, such as photocopying, reference, and research. Service is provided in person, online via email, and over the telephone. There is a reading room that can accommodate eighteen people, which is normally busy, with an average of about ten library users visiting each day. Another indication of the Library’s popularity is a statistic from their 2005 Annual Report which states that over 30,000 pages were photocopied for users that year. The collection’s uniqueness as well as the frailty of some of the items limits the borrowing privileges of most of the collection. Only items that have multiple copies can be borrowed from the library, and in order to guarantee their safe return a small security deposit is required. The staff consists of volunteers, as well as library and information science students from the nearby universities, Charles University and the Josef Skvorecky private college, who use this opportunity for valuable training and educational experience before graduation. The Libri Prohibiti welcomes those willing to volunteer their time and skills to the institution.
During the Communist reign in the Czech Republic, over 400 writers and journalists were not allowed to publish any of their works. It was also forbidden to sell or distribute any of these authors' past works. Some were persecuted and sentenced to prison if they did not comply with the regulations placed upon them. During this time many different types of performers, entertainers, and various types of creators were persecuted for and banned from performing or creating their specific art forms. It was almost impossible for these persecuted individuals to find any kind of employment after this. In order to continue their work or craft, they went “underground” with their writing and began producing samizdat. These prohibited writers started writing secretly in order to continue their work. Because their works were not allowed to be published, the writers had to produce them on their own. In order to produce multiple copies of their works, they used carbon paper to type up to twelve pages at once. After being typed up, these materials were hand delivered and passed around by friends and trusted associates. All of these actions were very dangerous, and those caught faced imprisonment or exile. During this time, Jiří Gruntorád, the current caretaker of the Libri Prohibiti, was imprisoned for four years for distributing samizdat literature. Although the conditions were a hardship and made production difficult, many works were produced and distributed in this fashion. There were also works reproduced as samizdat so that they could be distributed for reading. Among some of the most famous works that were reproduced into samizdat are George Orwell’s 1984 and J.R.R. Tolkien’s 900-page The Lord of the Rings, both of which are held at the Libri Prohibiti.
In 1990, the Libri Prohibiti was opened with help from different organizations including the Czechoslovak Charter 77 and the President of the Czech Republic. The original location was on Podskalska Street, and later moved to its current location at Senovazne namesti 2. The collection was started with around 2,000 monographs and magazines which had been acquired by Jiri Gruntorad, the current caretaker of the Library, during the years of “normalization” in the Czech Republic. Since then the collection has continued to grow and expand with the help and support of interested and generous parties.
The Society of Libri Prohibiti was established on April 24, 1991. The Society was established because the Libri was in need of the status of a legal entity. After registering the Society with the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, the Society was officially established. The primary goal of the Society is to help the Libri Prohibiti to continue operating and to help it to complete its collection.
Many of the founding members of this society were significant and established authors, former government and academic leaders and employees, as well as teachers and other prominent members of the community. Among some of the most prominent founders of the Society were Vaclav Havel, Ivan Klima, and Jan Vladislav.
Today there are over 180 members of the Society of Libri Prohibiti. Members’ contributions to the Society and Library are voluntary. The Society invites any interested people to join if they would like to contribute or help the Libri Prohibiti in any way. Currently the committee members of the Society of Libri Prohibiti are:
The Libri Prohibiti’s collection is a mixture of Czech, Slovak, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian exiled and samizdat literature. The majority of the collection is made up of samizdat. This collection has a variety of different types of exiled or samizdat literature which includes monographs, periodicals, archival works, reference resources, and audiovisuals. The collection comprises over 27,000 items, with approximately 2,000 of these being periodicals. The library is divided into nine distinct sections based on type, origin, and content of the item. The sections are:
1. Samizdat Monographs and Periodicals in Czech
This section comprises more than 13,100 items. These materials were produced in the Czech Republic during the time of Communist rule. Over 360 of these items are periodicals. The library has complete holdings of all of the periodical titles that have considerable importance due to content, reputation, or historical value.
Some of the titles within this section are:
Information about Charter 77 (periodical)
Revolver Revue (periodical)
2. Exile Monographs and Periodicals in Czech There are 6,500 exiled items within this section of the library and over 750 banned periodical titles. The representation of four hundred different individual publishers is one of the main significant facts about this section of the collection. Out of the four hundred publishers represented, thirty-five published and produced exiled monographs or periodicals with continuous editions. Many of the publishers' complete productions or editions are held in the Libri Prohibiti.
3. Monographs and Periodicals of the First- and Second-World-War Resistance
This section is a collection of items from the First and Second World wars in the Czech Republic. From the First World War, there are a total of 75 items of legionnaire’s literature. From the Czech war exile there is a total of 780 monographs. This collection also holds other materials, such as magazines from World War I and World War II.
4. Samizdat Monographs and Periodicals from foreign countries
The Libri Prohibiti also collects samizdat from other countries, in order to have a complete and comprehensive collection of this type of literature. This section of the collection has samizdat from Poland, Russia, and Slovakia. The majority of the foreign material in this collection is from the Czech Republic’s neighbors Slovakia and Poland, with more than 1,140 items from these areas, approximately 240 of these being periodicals. The Russian samizdat makes up a small portion of this section of the collection in comparison.
5. Exile Monographs and Periodicals from foreign countries
This section of the collection is primarily items from Slovakia and Russia. The exiled items from Slovakia total over 680, including periodicals. There are about 400 monographs from Russia and the Ukraine from the years between 1920 and 1990. Polish exiled information is only represented with a small number of items.
6. Monographs and Periodicals in foreign languages
These monographs and periodicals are items about or related to the former Czechoslovakia, as well as other Communist-ruled countries, that were produced in a language other than the native Czech language. The Library boasts over 2,800 volumes in this section, as well as over 480 periodicals. 7. Documentation and Archives
This section contains about 900 documents that vary in topic and medium. Most of the collection is written documents that originated from the activity of different organizations and agencies, such as Charter 77, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS), and the East European Information Agency. Within this collection are also unpublished works, such as manuscripts and correspondence letters. Archival resources, like flyers, posters, photographs, and newspaper clippings, are also a part of this section of the collection.
8. Reference Materials
This section of the collection represents any general information resources that are about or related to topics covered in the Library. The main topics covered are samizdat and exiled literature. There are over 1,780 resources in this section. This section has information in various forms including catalogs, dissertations, dictionaries, and bibliographies.
9. Audiovisual Materials
The audiovisual section of the Library is one of the bigger sections. There are approximately 2,300 cassettes, 700 CD-ROMs, and 160 gramophone records of music that was deemed nonconformist. There are also close to 450 recordings of underground lectures and seminars and around 700 video documentaries.
These are items written and published by the Libri Prohibit:
1. Exilova periodika: Katalog periodik ceskeho a slovenskeho exilu a krajanských tisku vydavanych po roce 1945(Exile Periodicals: Catalog of Czech and Slovak Exile Periodicals and Czech Printed Material Issued Abroad after 1945)
2. Informace o Charte 77: Clánkova bibliografie 1978-1990 (Information about Charter 77: An Article Bibliography, 1978-1990)
3. Katalog knih ceskeho exilu 1948-1994 (Catalog of Books of the Czech Exile, 1948-1994)
4. Sdelení Vyboru na obranu nespravedlive stíhanych a Zpravy Vychodoevropske informacni agentury (Communications of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted and Reports of the East European Information Agency)
Gruntorad, Jiri. “To the question ‘What have you got in here?’ I sometimes answer half-jokingly, ‘The memory of the nation.’ http://libpro.cts.cuni.cz/EN/clan32.htm
Huffman, Susan R. Czech Samizdat and the Libri Prohibiti: A Master’s Paper for the M.S. in L.S. degree. December 2000.
Libri Prohibit: Library of Samizdat and Exile Literature index. http://libpro.cts.cuni.cz/EN/index_en.html
Libri Prohibiti-Library of Samizat and Exile Literature-Prague Czech Republic. http://www.expats.cz/prague/czech/libraries/libriprohibitilibraryofsamizatandexileliterature/
Libri Prohibiti: Zprava za rok 2005/ Annual report 2005. [Prague: Libri Prohibiti], 2005.
Machovec, Martin. “A Brief Report on Present Knowledge of Czech Samizdat Phenomena 1948-1989”. http://libpro.cts.cuni.cz/EN/clan30.htm
Pavlik, Devana. “Exile periodicals: a catalog of Czech and Slovak exile and émigré periodicals after 1945.” http://libpro.cts.cuni.cz/EN/clan_rec03_09_en.htm
Samizdat Directory. http://www.samizdatportal.org/directory/view.jsp?24
Stastnova, Kazi. “Libri Prohibiti, Czech samizdat on the shelf”. http://libpro.cts.cuni.cz/EN/11x/clan11_en.htm