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Soviet History: a Bibliographic Guide to Published Sources

About This Guide

29th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution: Restoration of heroic cities.part of Soviet Information Bureau Photograph Collection. Fung Library SIB_0098

The Soviet History: a Bibliographic Guide to Published Sources focuses on published primary sources for the study of Soviet history, which include books, periodicals, collections of archival documents, legal and statistical sources, personal narratives and correspondence, oral history and works of literature, photography and arts that appeared/were published in the Soviet Union. This guide is intended as a companion to Soviet history: archival resources at Harvard university library and archives, which deals with archival, rather than published, resources. The present guide leaves out secondary and retrospective sources.

For each category of primary source we included the following sections:

  1. HOLLIS : some search strategies for for building your own bibliography from the Harvard Library catalog (HOLLIS), including some suggested hyperlinked search strings for the Advanced search mode.
  2. Bibliographic Resources : a list of bibliographies or other reference publications (articles, book chapters), with a direct link to the HOLLIS record ; in most cases some online versions of these will be available, either temporary (via HathiTrust) or a permanent one. In addition we have included web-based (online) resources that are available via open access or with Harvard Key.

As you work through this guide, please also refer to the following Harvard Library guides on resources pertaining to Russia, Eurasia, and Soviet history:

English-Language Primary Sources for the Study of Soviet History by Dr. Terry Martin

Digital Resources for Slavic, East European and Eurasian studies at Harvard University (a guide to databases, e-books, digital journal and newspaper archives, etc., accessible with Harvard Key or in open access)

Soviet history: archival resources at Harvard university library and archives.

Open-Access Resources for Research in Soviet History : a guide (hundreds of open-access online repositories of archival documents and various other categories of  primary sources arranged in a sortable spreadsheet).

HOLLIS: Strategies for Success

Please consult the HOLLIS User Guide for useful tips on navigating the Harvard Library's online catalog.

In order to receive the most precise search result, please use these strategies:

  • Use Advanced Search mode and enter more specific search terms.
  • Transliterate your searches using the ALA-LC (Library of Congress) transliteration format. Refer to the Library of Congress Romanization tables, or use an online transliteration tool.
  • Limit the search by date to your chronological period.
  • Limit the search to "Russian" or other relevant language(s).
  • Use "pearl chasing": remember that in HOLLIS all subject headings/phrases are hyperlinked; clicking on one will take you to other HOLLIS entries that contain the same subject phrase. This is called “pearl chasing". See what happens when you click on each of the two subject headings in the HOLLIS record for Ezhegodnik periodicheskikh izdanii SSSR:

Beyond HOLLIS: Strategies for Identifying Published Materials

Major libraries in Russia and other former Soviet states


The Electronic Catalog of the Russian State Library

The Russian State library is the largest public library in Russia with a huge collection of published materials in Russian and other languages. The library has an elaborate online catalog, through which users can search items, and, in some cases, read materials online.

Search Tips:

  • Use Advanced Search (rasshirennyi poisk) or Professional Search (professioanal’nyi poisk) to set specific search parameters 
  • Search in Russian or your original source language
  • Refine your search by using the faceted navigation on the left side of the page (access, year of publication, theme, language, subject, etc.)
  • Items with open access (“otkrytyi dostup”) can be read online 
  • The electronic catalog of the Russian State Library doesn’t support the “pearl chasing” function. Once you find one relevant item, click “Description (opisanie)”, which shows the metadata of the item. You can then copy relevant strings from here and use them to do new professional searches (pay particular attention to the theme (tema)).
  • Apart from searching, you could also browse various sub-catalogs of the library’s collections by checking boxes from the “Edinnyi elektronnyi katalog'' dropdown menu on the left side of the page. 

The Electronic Catalog of the State Public Historical Library of Russia

The Russian State Public Historical Library has an extensive collection of historical literature. Its electronic catalog contains more than 8 million entries and includes publications in Russian, the languages of peoples in the Russian Federation, and foreign languages. 

Search Tips:

  • Consult this page to learn about various catalogs of the library and search instructions
  • Search in Russian or your original source language
  • Use Advanced Search (rasshirennyi poisk) mode to set more specific search parameters
  • Use Search by Rubrics mode, which provides different indexes for search 
  • Do “pearl chasing” on the item page.

The Electronic Catalog of the Russian National Library

The Russian National Library (RNL) in Saint-Petersburg has the second largest library collections in Russia. Its electronic catalog has an interface similar to that of HOLLIS and has most functions HOLLIS has. Please consult the HOLLIS searching strategies above and apply them to the RNL system. Note that you can click the “Elektronnye kopi” box in the faceted navigation to view items that can be read online. 

In addition to the searchable catalog, you could also browse various sub-catalogs listed on this page of the Russian National Library website.

National Electronic Library of Russia

The National Electronic Library of Russia (NEL) is a Russian Federal digital project operated by the Russian State Library. It contains not only digital copies of published materials but also bibliographic and access information of both digitized and undigitized materials. The NEL’s collection is not limited to certain libraries and sometimes it can work like WorldCat for users to locate copies of materials. 

Search Tips:

  • Use Advanced Search (rasshirennyi poisk) to set specific search parameters (access, year of publication, language, publisher, place of publication, etc.)
  • Items identified as “accessible online” can be read from the site directly. You can nonetheless locate items identified as “accessible through electronic reading rooms” and “printed materials” on item pages.

Other libraries/institutions:

Based on your research interests, you should also try the online catalogs of other libraries in post-Soviet countries. In particular, if your research revolves around a certain region or a specific topic, you may want to search through the digital catalogs of relevant libraries, which are available on most libraries’ websites. This way, sometimes you may find very niche sources that you couldn’t find through major search systems. This web page provides links to the websites of most major libraries in the post-Soviet space. If your research is relevant to a certain institution, you could also visit the website of the institution and check its publications (if they have). For example, if you’re interested in Soviet Oriental Studies, you may want to check the publications of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the publications of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  


Yandex is one of the most popular search engines in Russian-speaking regions. If you’re not sure which library to refer to, you can simply do a keyword search on Yandex and see what results it brings. 

Search Tips:

  • Apart from the simple keyword search, you can use Yandex search syntaxes to conduct more sophisticated searches. Consult this page to learn more about Yandex search operators, many of which are unique to Yandex. 
  • Try different domain names. For example, for the Russian domain, for the Kazakhstani domain, and for the Belurasian domain. Sometimes different domain names generate different search results from the same search query. 

HathiTrust and Google Books

HathiTrust is a digital library that collaborates with academic and research institutions and offers a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. Currently, HathiTrust provides open access to works that are in the public domain (such as US works published before 1927, or works whose author died more than 70 years ago), uncopyrightable works (such as works of the US government), or works where we have permission from the copyright holder. (See HathiTrust’s copyright policy)

Search Tips:

  • Try searching in both your original source language and its English transliteration. 
  • Full-text search gives results of all full-text items, while catalog search gives results of subsets of works. Consult HathiTrust’s official search tips for more information. 
  • Use the faceted navigation on the left of the web page to refine your search results. 
  • On the catalog record page, you can click different hyperlinks to conduct “pearl chasing”, jump to similar items automatically shown on the right of the page, and locate a print version of the item. 

Google Books also contains extensive information about published materials in the Soviet Union. Use its Advanced Search feature to set specific search queries, try searching in both your original source language and its English transliteration, and use various hyperlinks provided on each item page to identify related materials. 

Locating Copies of Materials You Have Identified


Search HOLLIS; if an item is in the library but not available online and a physical loan is not an option for you, you can request chapters, articles, or excerpts (up to 15% of a given work) via the Scan & Deliver link in the full record view.

If you need the complete work and it is not in HOLLIS, search WorldCat for copies held at other university and public libraries in the Western world (US, Canada, Australia, UK, Europe), If one or more copies are found, you can request that one be sent to Harvard Library for you to borrow: 

  • First, search Borrow Direct, which is an expedited interlibrary loan program for users of libraries from the Ivy Plus consortium in the Northeastern U.S. If the item is available, place a Borrow Direct request.  
  • If the search yields no results, place an Interlibrary Loan request. Use the information in the WorldCat catalog entry to populate the form fields; this will help ILL get the item for you faster.

For periodicals (journals, newspapers, magazines), note that WorldCat will indicate whether a library has a title, but won't specify the format or issues held. Click on the holding library's name in the search results list to obtain the holdings details in that library's native catalog. If you’re looking to browse many issues held by another library, opt for periodicals on microfilm; these are more likely to be lent willingly and in large quantities.

The Web

If an item is not in WorldCat, search the web for a digital copy. Digital archives of many Soviet-era, journals, newspapers, maps, statistical reports, and other published content are available online on open-source platforms hosted by libraries and independent organizations. Many of these resources are listed in this guide: Digital Handbook for Research on Soviet History.The Handbook has collected information about major open-access digital libraries (national libraries, institutional libraries, regional libraries, and private libraries in 15 former Soviet countries) in the post-Soviet space. 

Below are some examples:

The National Electronic Library of Russia

Check the “Dostupnye onlain” box on the right to view only online full-text items:


Electronic Catalog of the Russian State Library

Check the “otkrytyi dostup” box in the left faceted navigation to view online full-text items:


Digital Library of the Russian National Library

(Also available by checking the “Elektronnye kopii” box on the left after searching in the library’s electronic catalog)


Digital Library of the Russian Public Historical Library

Digital Library of Historical Documents of the Russian Historical Society

Kazakhstan National Electronic Library

Digital Library “Culture of Ukraine”

Digital Library of the National Library of Georgia

Library of the Russian Geographical Society

Federal Digital Medical Library of Russia

Note: You could also try searching the title of the material you want on Yandex or VK. Sometimes such searches direct you to useful digital resources.

If everything else fails:

  • Place a purchase request with Harvard Library (note that older works will be harder to source and will take longer to acquire than a recently published one)
  • Look for a print copy on E-bay, Amazon, and other secondhand online bookseller sites.
  • Take a research trip to the major libraries in Russia or the CIS region.