Russian Language Blog

Navigating Libraries in Russian Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 in Culture


The goal of this post is two-fold — it should both help visitors to Russia use a Russian library and librarians outside Russia speak with Russian patrons. It will concentrate on some key vocabulary, although it is not a substitute for a beginner Russian class if you want to have a coherent conversation with your Russophone patrons. For those who cannot read Cyrillic, I recommend taking the online alphabet course, or you could also copy and paste the Russian words into Google Translator and click the speaker icon to hear the words pronounced.


In order to use a library (библиоте́ка) in Russia (I’m fairly sure the system is similar in other countries in the region), you need the equivalent of a library card — чита́тельский биле́т. To start a library membership (записа́ться в библиоте́ ку), you need to bring some identification (удостовере́ние ли́чности) — it is normally your internal Russian passport (па́спорт), although some libraries also accept your “foreign”/travel passport (загранпа́спорт), student card (студе́нческий биле́т), or military ID (вое́нный биле́т). A lot of libraries still have paper library cards. A library membership or the library card associated with that membership may also be called абонемент.

Information Management

Once you get library membership, you will need to look for the book you want in a catalog (катало́г). Some libraries have digital catalogs, like the ones you see in libraries in the US (электро́нный катало́г). Others may only have card catalogs (ка́рточный катало́г), where the author’s last names are alphabetized (расста́влены по алфави́ту).

Smaller libraries will let you take the book you need off the shelf (с по́лки) and take it to front desk (technically called пункт вы́дачи, but I’ve yet to hear anyone say that; you’d say у библиоте́каря). Some books will be reference only and need to be read in the reading room (чита́льный зал). Other libraries may have you fill out a request form (запо́лнить чита́тельское тре́бование), and the librarian then brings you the books they have available.


So far, I’ve been talking about books, but libraries also offer other services (услуги):

– аудиокни́ги (audiobooks)
– компакт-ди́ски (CDs)
– DVD (DVDs)
– видеокассе́ты (VHS)
– печа́тная проду́кция/периоди́ческие изда́ния (журналы, газеты) – periodic press

You can take out/borrow materials (for example, взять кни́гу в библиоте́ке), as long as you return it (сдать). As you noticed, взять also means to take, which is why some Russians may say “I took this book from the library” in other languages — I assure you they intend to return it.

Subscriptions (подпи́ска) to educational services, like Transparent Language Online, remain uncommon for Russian libraries — but if you work for or visit one outside Russia, you could say, “У нас есть беспла́тный до́ступ к…” (“We have free access to…”)

Real-World Applications

I would like to finish this post by sharing a few real-life dialogues as recorded in the Russian National Corpus.

[№ 1, жен, 18] Здра́вствуйте! (Hello.)
[№ 6, жен, 26] Здра́вствуйте! (Hello.)
[№ 1, жен, 18] А мо́жно кни́ги сдать? (Can I return some books?)
[№ 6, жен, 26] Дава́йте ваш чита́тельский биле́т! (May I see your library card?)
[№ 1, жен, 18] Возьми́те. (Here you are.)
[№ 6, жен, 26] У вас еще́ одна́ кни́га на рука́х. (You have another book checked out.)
[№ 1, жен, 18] Да / я зна́ю. (Yes, I know.)

[Библиотекарь, жен] Вот. Во́зле га́лочки. ([Sign] here, by the checkmark.)
[Посетитель, муж] Угу. (Aha.)
[Библиотекарь, жен] Вот / пожа́луйста / ваш чита́тельский билет. Проходи́те в чита́льный зал / выбира́йте интересу́ющую литерату́ру. (Here is your library card. Come on into the reading room; feel free to pick what you like.)
[Посетитель, муж] Спаси́бо / а до скольки́ откры́т чита́льный зал? (Thank you. How late is the reading room open? [the formally correct form is до скольких])
[Библиотекарь, жен] Часы́ рабо́ты чита́льного за́ла соотве́тствуют часа́м рабо́ты библиотеки. (The reading room hours are the same as the library hours.) [Запись в библиотеку // Из коллекции НКРЯ, 2006]

[Настя, жен, 18] Ага́ / я то́же собира́лась / то́лько сперва зайдём в библиоте́ку / ла́дно? (Yeah, I was going to, as well. Let’s stop by the library first, shall we?)
[Даша, жен, 18] Мы то́же хоте́ли зайти́ сдать кни́ги. (We wanted to return some books, too.)
[Настя, жен, 18] А мне слова́рь на́до взять. (I need to borrow a dictionary.) [Разговоры в университете // Из материалов Ульяновского университета, 2007]

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. aljoscha:

    Your stressing does not square with the blog, which has the correct stresses. What is the point?

  2. JohnS:

    Maria, In addition to the vocabulary and technical terms, the real-world application/dialog is very helpful and much appreciated, as the vernacular/spoken and formal/written registers can apparently sometimes be very different. Thanks!

    • Maria:

      @JohnS Thank you, John! I’m glad this is useful. I like using examples from the Russian National Corpus because this way, we can be sure someone actually said this.