Theatre Institute Library and its Collections

Theatre Institute Library and its Collections

The library of the Theatre Institute is a merger of two collections of books and magazines.

This consolidation resulted in the formation of a comprehensive resource for theatre studies. The first collection, obtained by the newly established Institute from July 1, 2003, consists of purchases and donations from private individuals. On the other hand, the second collection was initially received as a deposit and later, in November 2007, as a gift from the library of the Association of Polish Stage Artists. At the time of acquisition, this collection contained 9,861 volumes.

The Zaspowska collection has its roots in a resolution adopted during the First Congress of Directors in November 1919. The aim was to establish a “professional library” that would serve as the foundation for Polish theatre studies. Leon Schiller, a prominent director at the time, vigorously supported this decision, emphasizing that quality directing hinges on having access to insightful literature.

In 1920, substantial funds from the ZASP foundation were allocated to purchase a range of theatre books, publications, and a unique collection of slides illustrating the history of theatre, all sourced from Professor Kazimierz Wójcicki. The annual budget for 1923 included a dedicated amount of 500,000 Polish marks for the library’s development and activities.

Beyond acquisitions through purchases, the library thrived due to generous contributions from ZASP members. Responding to appeals made by Leon Schiller, these individuals selflessly donated numerous books to enrich the newly established library. Actor Juliusz Kalinowski was among the first benefactors, generously gifting a collection of over 600 volumes pertaining to theatre studies, art, and dramatic literature. In addition to the books, he also donated lithographic portraits of deceased Polish artists, characteristic type cards, and a magnificent mahogany desk. Kalinowski’s gesture was regarded as a civic act, inspiring others to follow suit. Consequently, the library expanded rapidly, acquiring paintings, engravings, press clippings, magazines, posters, photos, and bookshelves. Kalinowski, serving as the first librarian, became a role model for future librarians. The names of these generous donors were published in the union magazine “Scena Polska”. After the liquidation of the assets of the former Union of Artists, Artists and Employees of Warsaw Government Theatres, an additional 3,000 volumes and valuable theatre collections were added to the library’s existing stock. In its fourth year, the library boasted valuable collections such as portraits of distinguished colleagues, photographs from plays, “type” cards, old posters, programs, an information and press archive, and a general information and art archive based on excerpts from the Press Information. Although a reading room was established, the lending library was deferred until organizational matters were resolved. This delay was due to the approval of relevant regulations (“Scena Polska” 1922 No. 5).

Until 1938, ZASP’s headquarters were situated within a portion of the Polonia Palace Hotel profit house at Aleje Jerozolimskie 53. The library was also located at this address, albeit space constraints made it a challenge to accommodate its growing resources. According to Barbara Król-Kaczorowska, ZASP occupied two rooms within the hotel, one with a view of the avenue and the courtyard, and a small space with one window. These rooms held bookshelves and a library table (“Theatre Diary” 1990 issues 3-4).

Despite becoming the owners of a tenement house at Aleje Ujazdowskie 45 in 1938, ZASP continued to rent the hotel space until early 1940. It is unclear when the books were transferred to the new premises. The fate of the library during the Warsaw Uprising is not documented in the written history of ZASP, although Al. Ujazdowskie did not suffer significant damage according to Król-Kaczorowska.

In late December 1947, the “common room and reading room” of the union were opened within the ZASP premises. Once again, Juliusz Kalinowski offered to manage the library, and Leon Schiller called upon trade unionists to donate their books. However, it was not until 1950, when ZASP fully reclaimed its premises, that it transformed into the Association of Polish Theatre and Film Artists, obtaining all assets including the library. Two years later, after the reconstruction of the first floor, the library found its new home and started operations.

“April 1, 1954 – it was written – in a new premises at Al. Stalina 45 the Library of the Association of Polish Theater and Film Artists was launched. The reading room of the Library would be open every day (except Saturdays) from 11-15 and available to all members of the Association and people working on theater issues. The library is a scientific auxiliary workshop for actors, directors and scenographers. It contains a large collection of theater texts and works on the history of Polish and popular theatre, theater criticism, costuming, art history and others. In addition, the Library has a selection of works by the classics of Marxism-Leninism and works in the field of Marxist aesthetics.” (“Teatr” 1954 No. 8). 

Once again, Juliusz Kalinowski took charge of the library, and successful appeals for donations were made. Over time, the collection outgrew its shelf space, settling into an unsuitable location unworthy of its historical significance. In addition, unrelated volumes found their way into the collection, creating disorder. Fortunately, with ownership marks on the books, we know that a portion of the pre-war collection survived. These marks indicate the interwar period, the post-war years, and our era, reflecting a fragile but continuous thread.

The Library and Reading Room of the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute, cannot fulfil Leon Schiller’s vision of a “professional library” or serve as an “apparatus for work on Polish theatre studies” without previous publications. Consequently, the gift from ZASP holds special meaning for us, as every donation contributes to the inclusion of both contemporary and older publications in our collection.

It seems that Schiller’s call still resonates, as many theatre professionals and their families present us with books from their personal libraries. Notable donations include collections from Elżbieta Baniewicz, Irena Bołtuć and Andrzej Hausbrandt, Daniel Gerould, Joanna Godlewska, Rudolf Gołębiowski, August Grodzicki, Witold Gruca, Marian Jonkajtys, Zofia Kucówna, and Jan Kulczyński, who gifted a unique edition of Władysław Matlakowski’s translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Other contributors include Zdzisław Leśniak (film!), Bożena Mamontowicz-Łojek (dance, ballet), Maciej Nowak, Kazimierz Wichniarz, Zenon Wiktorczyk, and the Polish ITI Center (foreign-language magazines).

Our library continues to grow through the addition of the latest theatre and related arts publications. We regularly update the catalog and provide information through electronically sent “letters from the library” as well as the “purchases” section on our website:

[Author: Maria Dworakowska]

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