Jacob Hodnefield: The libraries of Scandinavia. Denmark. 1914.

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in: Publications of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian study. Proceedings series I, 1914, page 283-286.

The libraries of Scandinavia


We may distinguish four important types of libraries in the Scandinavian countries, 1, the royal libraries, 2, the university libraries, 3, the public libraries and 4, the libraries of societies and individuals.
The royal libraries are found only in Sweden and Denmark, but the other types are found in all the countries of Scandinavia. The royal and university libraries are old institutions in Denmark and Sweden, while the public libraries are of recent origin in all cases, and the university?national library of Norway is but a century old.
In Sweden the royal library was founded only about a hundred years after the invention of printing, or about the middle of the 16th century. However it was totally destroyed a little later, but was revived and grew to prominence in the eighteenth century. The Danish royal library was founded about two centuries after the invention of printing and met with less vicissitudes than its sister library in Sweden.
The royal libraries of Scandinavia were evidently founded for the same reason that museums were founded, to preserve treasures. There was little idea of service, except perhaps to a few members of the royal family and the nobility. These storehouses of books still exist in Copenhagen and Stockholm, but they are finding a work which was not dreamed of by their founders and wholly outside their original intention. They are now extending their influence to all parts of their respective countries and have become in reality national libraries. It is likely that these libraries, more than any of the other classes, will in the future supply the scarce, the costly and the precious to the citizens of these countries.
The universities in Denmark and Sweden were founded from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries; and, while these universities had no libraries in the early years, there were some small collections of books. The university libraries were, from the beginning of their establishment, aids in university instruction and were used exclusively by the professors and students. This education, we must remember, was as yet only for a chosen few, and the service of the book collections depended upon the service which the educated classes rendered. The university libraries must continue to be largely collections for the service of the institutions of which they form a part. These libraries are now however loaning books to scholars in all parts of the country when such loans are asked for.
The public libraries in all these countries have developed during the last century, and they have not yet come into their own. Before we can understand these public libraries we must consider them as part of the present system of public education. As an adjunct to this system, they are necessarily subsequent in time.
The movement for popular education has been contemporary with the movement for popular government in the Scandinavian countries, and the two movements have reacted upon each other. With the desire and right of self?government, came also the demand to know; and the book was the natural messenger of truth. The demand for books, which were too costly to be duplicated in every home, produced the public library.
A distinction between Scandinavian and American public libraries is worthy of notice. Scandinavian public libraries are, with some exceptions, loan collections and in general have no reading rooms. The difference is evidenced by the names in vogue. Most public libraries are called "Bogsamlinger" (book collections). The larger cities however use the word "Bibliotek". These larger cities also have reading rooms and reference collections, based to some extent upon American models.

The Royal Library in Copenhagen was founded by King Frederick III. in 1665. Since 1781 it has received two copies of all books and papers printed in Denmark. The library has at present about 750.000 volumes, and receives annually about 101.000 crowns for maintenance and 60.000 crowns for books and binding. During the year 1912-13, 25.631 volumes were loaned outside the building and 146.000 were used in the reading room. Modern fiction and poetry in the Danish language are not circulated, being considered a collection for permanent preservation; nor are foreign novels of the last twenty years circulated. The national literature is kept in a separate collection.
Each collection in the library has two catalogs, an alphabetic, or author catalog, and a systematic, or subject catalog. The alphabetic catalogs are on slips, and the systematic in large folio volumes. The classification, based originally on the system of the Göttingen university library, is by subjects such as mathematics, geology, chemistry, etc., indicated on the cards by abbreviations. Numbers are not used in this scheme to designate classes.
The library is equipped with a modern reference and reading room with convenient access to reference books.
The University of Copenhagen was founded in 1482, but it is not likely that there was any library worthy of the name in the beginning. The university, which was founded upon the model of the University of Köln, met with disaster in the Reformation, and its activities ceased altogether. In 1539 it was reestablished as a protestant institution and modeled upon the University of Wittenberg.
The university seems to have had a fairly regular development, and the library must have grown to some proportion, when the institution was destroyed by fire in 1728. It was reestablished again in 1732 and received its final reorganization in 1788.
In 1748 Christian IV. founded the library which has come down to the present day as the university library. With it were then incorporated the Classen library (a merchants library) and the Arne Magnusson collection.
The Arne Magnusson collection is an interesting adjunct to the library. Arne Magnusson lived during the years 1663?1730. He was born in Iceland, but migrated to Denmark, and became professor of philosophy and northern antiquities at the University of Copenhagen. During the years 1702-1712 he gathered the first part of the collection of Icelandic manuscripts which made up the classical literature of Iceland. In 1728 two?thirds of the collection was destroyed by the fire at the University of Copenhagen. Arne Magnusson bequeathed the rest of the collection, together with his entire fortune, to the university library.
During the years 1888-1894 Dr. Kr. Kålund published a catalog of the collection, together with a biography of Arne Magnusson.
The University of Copenhagen library shares with the Royal Library the honor of being a depository of all books published in Denmark. The library has at present about 350.000 bound volumes, 150.000 dissertations and 65.000 manuscripts. It received annually 26.000 crowns for books and 43.000 crowns for maintenance, besides 4.000 crowns for the Arne Magnusson collection.
The administration and routine of the University Library is very much like that of the Royal Library.
Popular education developed very rapidly in Denmark during the 19th century, the popular movements and the public demand leading the way for government activity. One of the forceful agents in the extension of knowledge was "Udvalget for Folkeoplysningens Fremme", organized in 1866, under whose patronage many books were published and in many cases distributed free or at small cost to libraries. Various book collections were started by societies, and diocese libraries were opened for public service.
In 1888 Copenhagen recognized her duty to the public by opening a series of public libraries. "Folkebiblioteker". These were mostly collections of fiction and were used at first only by a small minority of the population, and only by the well?to?do. The example of Copenhagen was followed by other cities, such as Valby, and Fredriksberg, and the movement has gradually extended to all parts of the kingdom. Libraries were also started on a small scale in public schools for the use of pupils.
In 1899 "Statens Komite til Understøttelse of Folkebogsamlinger" was organized to succeed an earlier committee and with the purpose of giving counsel and help and of distributing subventions. Since that time the state has regularly appropriated money for libraries. In 1904-05, 336 libraries were subsidized in sums up to 200 crowns. Not all of these libraries were public, as several society libraries were assisted. The budget for 1912-13 called for 35.800 crowns for public libraries and 13.800 crowns for public school libraries. The public libraries are required to double the amount contributed by the state, which additional amount is raised by taxation in the towns; and it is frequently the case that the towns contribute a much larger amount than the state subvention.
In these libraries there are usually no trained librarians, no reading rooms and no reference rooms. The expense for maintenance is very small. The libraries are open for the loan of books a limited number of hours a day, in many cases from seven to nine P.M, and often not more than two or three days a week.
In 1902 Denmark established the state library in Aarhus. In it was incorporated the diocese library, and duplicates were sent from the royal library in Copenhagen. The library was also made a depository for one copy of all books printed in Denmark, so that its future as a library is insured. Books are loaned from this library to any one in Denmark, even as far as the Faroe Islands. The educational value of the library is inestimable.
It may not be out of place here to mention that Iceland also has libraries of no mean influence on the island. The most important of there is the National Library, "Landsbokasafn," which contains at present about 73.000 volumes. Its annual income, appropriated by the state, is nearly 16.000 crowns. The library is open to the public. A university was established in Reykjavik in 1912, and its library will doubtless in time rise to a place of prominence.