The history of the Library is significantly older than that of The Polish Museum of America, a part of which it currently forms. In 1912 members of the Polish Roman Catholic Union organized a fund drive for its establishment and collected $2,210 for the Library.
In March of 1913 PRCUA President Stanisław Adamkiewicz established a committee to organize the library and purchase books. Its members were Father Władysław Zapała and Father Thomas Bona, Francis S. Barć, Dr. Karol H. Wachtl, Nikodem L. Piotrowski, Zofia Warszewska, and Father Władysław Krakowski. In actuality, Father Bona did most of the preparations and in early 1914 the first books were purchased for the sum of $6,000 from subscriptions and a subsidy from the Union, which in 1913 voted to give $14,071 for the needs of the Library. The ceremonial opening of the Library, with a blessing by Father Jan Obyrtacz, took place on April 18, 1915. By this time the Library consisted of over 4,000 volumes. The first librarian was Władysław Kocwa, and later Franciszek X. Medwecki. A mobile library was organized to service the Polish Roman Catholic Union’s outlying districts. During the period from 1917 to 1919 the PRCUA’s Educational Aid Committee financed the Library. The Library was to be the internal library for the PRCUA, but based on the national character of the Union and it’s action to make the collection accessible to members beyond Chicago, the Catalogue of the Library of the Polish Roman Catholic Union in the United States of North America was published in 1919.
Organized with such a great impetus, the library shortly afterwards began to collapse – according to historian Zygmunt Stefanowicz. Its revival occurred only when Miecislaus Haiman became the librarian in 1934, about the time when President Joseph L. Kania began the process to found the Museum. At that time it was decided to incorporate the existing Library into the newly emerging Museum, which was accepted by the PRCUA executive board at a meeting on October 14, 1935. From this moment the Library became an integral part of the Museum, though it was never included in the official titles of the institution, neither in the first as The Museum and Archives of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, or the current one The Polish Museum of America. In that same year Haiman began organizing the Library holdings and also donated his private collection of books on Polonia and Poland, initiating the so called Polonica Archives. The Library was originally located on the second floor of the PRCUA building, along with the Museum and the Archives, in the current Paderewski Room.
The primary purpose of the Library was the spreading of information about Polish literature and culture among adults as well as among youth and Polish Saturday school pupils. For this reason, the Library organized many different types of activities, among them lectures that attract a wide audience. During World War II, the Library cooperated with representatives of the government and Armed Forces of the United States, by making maps available as well as preparing studies on Poland, and participating in the training of American soldiers of Polish descent in the areas of language, culture, history, geography, and knowledge of Polish society for possible deployment in post-war Poland. The Federal Bureau of Investigation often turned to the Library for information on the Polish community in America, speciffically for its history and traditions.
After the death of Miecislaus Haiman, the Library entered upon hard times which ended only when the position of curator was taken over by Franciscan Father Donald Biliński from 1970 to 1986. He reorganized the Library by cataloguing the collection utilizing the universally accepted system, the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, and classifying it under the Dewey Decimal System. Subjects were taken from the Sears List of Subject Headings, supplemented by headings from the Library of Congress of Washington DC, as well as from the National Library in Warsaw. The work begun by Father Biliński was continued by a graduate of the well-known Rosary College, Maria Karpowicz, who was employed from 1986 through 1993. She was a great individualist, an author of an article about the Library, and a librarian who loved her work, giving her all for the Library and it’s patrons. Following the path shown by her predecessors since 1995 is the writer of these words – Małgorzata Kot.
The Library also houses the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA). The unofficial beginnings of the Society go back to 1973, when Edward Peckwas, a historian began researching heraldry. His search was assisted by Sabina P. Logisz. She connected him with Joseph Dressel, another historian from Chicago, who was also researching his family tree. Ms. Logisz passed on information to the two of them regarding genealogy and heraldry. Observing the many amateur attempts by researches in collecting genealogical information, they decided to render assistance by establishing a society which would guarantee professional assistance and allow for the exchange of genealogical information and experiences. The Society includes both hobbyists and those with a passion for research, mainly Americans of Polish descent, normally not speaking the language of their ancestors. The first organizational meetings took place in April and May of 1978. By September of that year, the Society counted 85 members throughout the whole country. Its headquaters from the beginning was the Library. It helps those interested in genealogical research, promotes information regarding their own heritage, points out trails to follow in the search for one’s roots and publishes its own bulletin, “Rodziny” (Families) as well as books dedicated to genealogy. Among them are: W. F. Hoffman’s, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings; W. F. Hoffman’s and G. W. Helon’s, First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings; and L. Muller’s, Roman Catholic Parishes in the Polish People’s Republic in 1984. In 2002, thanks to the efforts of PGSA president Rosalie Lindberg and Małgorzata Kot, was printed the List of Genealogical Publications of the Library of The Polish Museum of America. In addition, the PGSA organizes an annual conference, which is attended by members of the Society from all over the world, and from 1993 it has awarded its “Wigilia” (Vigilance) Medal to deserving genealogical researchers. More information about the Society can be found on its Internet web site, www.pgsa.org, which has data bases, but not limited to, of interest to genealogists; among them obituaries from the “Dziennik Chicagoski” from 1890-1971, death certificates from the insurance files of the Polish Roman Catholic Union, a listing of Jubilee books of Polonian parishes found in The PMA Archives, an index of the recruiting papers of the enlistees for the Polish Army in France, and an index of marriage certificates from Polish American parishes in Chicago.
Today the Library has a reading room equipped with computers, copiers, and microfilm readers as well as the library stacks and work areas. The list of catalogued books contains nearly 49,000 volumes. In 2001 the 40,000th book was catalogued, the reprint of Miecislaus Haiman’s Polish Past in America, with a foreword by Sabina P. Logisz. Additions to the Library come from individual donations (70%), purchases (20%) and exchanges (10%).
The most precious part of the book collection is the 67 volumes of old printed books, coming from the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries. From the viewpoint of themes, they are very different, though dominated by historical and historical-geographical works, as well as books of law and rules and regulations. There is one volume out of twelve of Jan Długosz’s Historiae Polonica, also called Annales seu cronica inclyti Regi Poloniae (Yearbooks, or the Chronicles of the Famous Kingdom of Poland), representing the history of Poland from the beginnings to 1480 in relation to her neighboring countries. The Chronicles form one of the highest achievements of historiography of Europe in the Middle Ages. Written in the years 1455–1480, then forgotten for a certain period (though later historians did make use of them), and partially printed in 1614–1615, a complete set was finally published in Leipzig in the years 1711–1712. The volumes in the possession of the Museum come from this edition. In addition to the work of Długosz, in the collection we also find histories written by other authors: Maciej Stryjkowski’s Kronika polska, litewska, żmodzka i wszystkiej Rusi (The Chronicle of Poland, Lithuania, Zmudz and all the lands of Rus, 1582), Marcin Kromer’s De origine et rebus gestis Polonorum (1589), as well as Joachim Bielski’s Kronika polska (Polish Chronicle, 1597), which covered the period till 1586, a heavily rewritten and updated version of one of the volumes of Kroniki wszystkiego świata (Chronicles of the Entire World), written by Joachim’s father – Marcin Bielski, being the single attempt in the annals of old Polish writings to write about contemporary matters. On the other hand, Jan Krzysztof Hartknoch in Republica Polonica duobus libris illustrata (1678), wrote about relationships in Poland from the legal point of view, while Samuel Twardowski related Wojnę domową z Kozaki, Tatary, Moskwą potym Szwedami i z Węgry (The Civil War with the Cossacks, Tartars and Moscow, and later with the Swedes and with Hungary, 1681), creating one of the best works of the Polish baroque period, characterized by the wealth of socio-historic material. In the collection, one finds Kasper Niesiecki’s book of Heraldry, Korona Polska (The Polish Crown, 1728), as well as a printed collection of laws and regulations: Statut Wiekiego Xięstwa Litewskiego (Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1693), Prawa, konstytucje y przywileje Królestwa Polskiego i Wielkiego Xięstwa Litewskiego (The Law, Constitution and Privileges of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1739), Constutucie Seymu Walnego Koronnego Warszawskiego Roku MDCXXIV (The Constitution of the General Sejm of the Crown [in] Warsaw in the Year MDCXXIV, 1647), Konstytucje Sejmu Walnego (The Constitution of the General Sejm, 1726), Inwentarz Nowy Praw (Inventory of New Laws, 1782), and also speeches of delegates to the Sejm – Kolekcja mów na Sejmie Walnym Warszawskim (A Collection of Speeches at the General Warsaw Sejm, 1776). In addition to works on Polish history by native authors, the collection also houses works by foreign authors, some from the 18th century, for example: M. de Bizaraire’s, An Historical Account of the Divisions of Poland, Abbe De Parthenay’s, The History of Poland under Augustus II (1734), L’Abbe M. des Fontaines’, The History of the Revolutions of Poland from the Foundation of the Monarchy to the Death of Augustus II (1736), and The History of Poland (1795).
The remaining old prints are of a religious nature, from prayer books to religious tracts; knowledge of language, (for example M. Bened and S. J. Woronowski’s, Słownik polsko-łaciński (Polish-Latin Dictionary, 1769); as well as natural history books, in the broadest sense of the word. In this section, special attention should be paid to the work of the court doctor of Augustus II, Christian Heinrich Erndtel, who spent many years in Warsaw and his work, Varsavia physice illustrata (1730) in addition to vignettes of the life of the city and its inhabitants, contains meteorological observations from 1725–1728 as well as descriptions of the local flora. Among the books, there are also some literary works, as for example Wacław Potocki’s Iovialitates albo żarty i fraszki rozmaite (Jovialities, or different Jokes and Epigrams, 1747).
A second collection in our holdings, and forming a separate entity, is the already referenced, Polonica Archives, the collection of books and pamphlets regarding Poland and Polonia consisting of nearly 4,000 titles, divided into two groups, catalogued by Alphonse Wolanin. Both collections were published as catalogues: Polonica in English (1945) and Polonica Americana(1950).
Polonica in English consists of those works published in English during the last 400 years, or were translated into English from Polish or French. Among the most important are those associated with the Polish Government in Exile, its official media, and those subordinated to it (the Ministry of Information, the Polish Information Center, and the Polish Publication Committee) whose assignment was to maintain relations between Poland and other countries during World War II, as well as keeping “the Polish Question” on the international arena. It should be remembered that this collection also contains works on early history, biographies of famous Poles (among them Queen Jadwiga and King Jan III Sobieski), as well as studies of Polish language and literature, theater and tourism, and also English translations of Polish poetry and prose. The authors of the works belonging to this collection are both Poles as well as foreigners who have dedicated themselves to the study of Poland (in history – Abbe de Parthenay and E. Whitlock, and in literature – Marion and Arthur Coleman, Eric P. Kelly, Charlotte and Vernon Kellogg, and Florence and George Noyes).
The Polonica Americana collection first of all consists of studies and sketches dealing with Polonia and Polish-American contacts, as well as books published in America by authors of Polish descent. They are printed primarily in Polish and English, but also in French, Spanish, German and even in Latin. Polonica Americana contains among others, works by the mathematician Louis C. Karpinski, physicists Stanisław Mrozowski and Roman Smoluchowski, climatologist Władysław Gorczyński, economist Mieczysław Stefan Szymczak, explorer Fryderyk Schwatka, chronicler of the War of Secession Adam Gurowski (known as “Lincoln’s Gadfly”, he represented a more radical approach to the prosecution of the war with the Confederacy than did Lincoln. He proposed the enlistment of black troops in the Federal cause earlier than the actions of the government.) The collection also has works of fiction, tales, novels and theatrical plays, among whose authors are Stefania Laudyn, Helena Staś, Melania Nestorowicz, Czesław Łukaszewicz, and Antoni Jax. They represent the life of American Polonia. The Museum also has the written programs of radio journalist Tony Wons, and puzzle creator Anthony Filipiak.
In concluding, a short description of the book collection used by the reading public. It is primarily in Polish and consists of encyclopedias, dictionaries, albums, and biographies, as well as works in the field of history (among them are a large selection of works concerning World War II), literature and art and also publications dedicated to culture in the broadest sense of the word, and geography. Its biggest segment is the constantly growing literature of fiction for adults, youths and children. In a separate section of the Library, one’s eye is drawn to the uniformly bound in black leather books embossed with the seal of the Polish Roman Catholic Union. These are the catalogued books which made up the original Library of the Union and are the foundation of today’s collection. The Library also has in its possession a huge collection of newspapers, many of them on microfilm, of Polish language newspapers printed in America: “Trybuna Polska” (Polish Tribune) 1920–1939, “Ameryka Echo” (America Echo) 1914–1956, “Dziennik Chicagoski” (Polish Chicago Daily News) 1890–1971, “Dziennik Polski” (Polish Daily) 1944, 1954, 1956, “Dziennik Zjednoczenia” (PRCUA Daily) 1921–1939, “Dziennik Związkowy” / “Polish Daily News” 1941–1945, “Echo Polskie” (Polish Echo) 1 March 1912–1914 December 1912, “Głos Polek” (Voice of Polish Women) 1902–1903, 1913–1914, 1940–1945, “Naród Polski” (Polish Nation) 1897–1971, “Polak w Ameryce” (Pole in America) 1888–1925, “Polish Daily News” 1891–1902, “Polish Perspectives” 1966–1975, “Polish Review” 1966, 1974, 1977–1979, 1981–1984, “Przewodnik Katolicki” (Catholic Guide) 1943–1945, “Strażnica Zachodnia” (Western Guardhouse) 1922–1933, “Wiara i Ojczyzna” (Faith and Fatherland) 1891, and “Wiarus” (The Old Guard) 1894–1919.
In recent years the collection of Polonica Americana, Polish language material in the form of audio cassettes, CD’s, feature films and documentaries dedicated to various aspects of Polish geography and history of Poland, as well as matters vital to Polonia has been enlarged.