Česká literární bibliografie Czech Literary Bibliography

Retrospective Bibliography of Czech Literature 1770–1945

Number of records: approx. 1,750,000
Number of titles:approx. 530 titles
List of processed journals (xlsx)
Scope: Czech and world literature, theatre, film, philosophy, journalism and politics
Materials: daily press and periodicals
Time frame: 1770–1945
Languages: Czech, Slovak, German
How to cite the Retrospective Bibliography: Czech Literary Bibliography. Retrospective Bibliography. Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences, a public research institution. Available at: https://clb.ucl.cas.cz/retrobi.

History

The history of the card index of the Retrospective Bibliography of Czech Literature is entwined with the history of the Czech Academy of Sciences itself.  During the Second World War, the Academy began work on a bibliographic card index of Czech literature that would eventually record titles published between 1936 and 1945. In 1947, this task was automatically taken over by the new Institute of Czech Literature (ICL). The driving force behind it was director Emanuel Macek, who during the 1950s conceived of the idea for the present-day retrospective bibliography of Czech literary studies with an end date of 1945. Not long afterwards, ICL’s researchers started systematically documenting materials about Czech literature in periodicals that had been published in the Czech lands from the earliest signs of modern Czech literature in the late 18th century to almost the time of recording. From the outset, these bibliographers approached their task chronologically, beginning with 19th-century publications and proceeding to those from the first half of the 20th century. (For this reason, many of the catalogue cards for 19th-century works are handwritten while most of those for 20th-century titles are typewritten.) Emanuel Macek also compiled key reference works on bibliographic methods, including one  book that remains in use today: Bibliografie české beletrie a literární vědy (Bibliography of Czech Fiction and Literary Studies, Prague: ÚČL ČSAV, 1969).

The Retrospective Bibliography card index soon became the go-to information source for large projects such as the ICL’s academic history of Czech literature, whose first three parts appeared between 1959 and 1961, and the Lexicon of Czech Literature in the 1970s. It was also a crucial reference for many smaller assignments and individual tasks. Gradually the intense work on collection subsided, and the focus shifted to the essential editing and sorting of material. The once large staff assigned to the project was pared back. 

The development of the card index gained new momentum in the early 1990s with the appointment of Daniel Řehák, who methodically worked through the backlog of incomplete records (over 250,000 cards). Most importantly he resolved the policy question of how to deal with the initialisms and pseudonyms used in the catalogue: a separate key was created to decode these terms. This systematic decoding led to the successful identification of many previously unknown or unconfirmed authors. Eventually, a card index emerged based on a sophisticated classification system with approx. 700 drawers and some 1.7 million index card records. The idea of digitisation was first raised in the 1990s when materials at the ICL Literary Studies Information Centre began to be prepared for their transfer to electronic databases that were gradually being made available online. In the second half of the decade, staff began transcribing the subject area section of the card index catalogue (now the RET database). This work was halted shortly afterwards, however, because of the overwhelming demands it placed on time and personnel. For a long time, the vastness of the card index seemed to defy digitisation efforts. 

In the years since, only limited work has taken place on the creation of new entries in the Retrospective Bibliography. Instead, our bibliographers have focused on editing the card index and enhancing its contents. They have worked especially on identifying individuals who were formerly known only by their aliases. 

Over time, the option opened up of digitising the current card index using scans of its contents. From the standpoint of time, funding and equipment, this approach appeared increasingly to be more practical than manual data transcription.

This plan was realised under a two-year grant for card index digitisation from the Ministry of Education’s INFOZ programme in 2009. Based on this funding, our staff developed the RETROBI display system and scanned the entire card index.

Current status of the record base

The Retrospective Bibliography of Czech Literary Studies emerrged through the systematic review of periodicals published in the Czech lands from the first stirrings of the national revival to the end of the Second World War. All of these works appeared in Czech, German or Slovak. ICL’s bibliographers documented all content related to literature and associated genres such as fiction (incl. translations); reviews of Czech and world literature; adaptations for other media (e.g. theatre, film and music) and essays, articles, reports, opinion pieces and polemics on literary studies. In many cases, they also recorded works of journalism, political statements, manifestos and papers in overlapping fields. Decisions about whether to include or exclude “borderline” or “controversial” items were made by individual reseachers based on their background knowledge but tended to err on the side of inclusion. One subset of the index records pictorial material (portraits and photographs of writers, text illustrations, etc.). 

You can see a summary of the current status of the record base in either table or database form.