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Scandinavian Collection Development Policy

Collection development within the Scandinavian Section of the British Library today, builds on one of the finest collections of Scandinavian books in the world

When the Library of the British Museum opened in 1759, created from the Sloane, Old Royal and other collections, it is estimated that there were already some 1,250 Scandinavian works in the foundation collections of its Department of Printed Books. Books acquired with the libraries of Sir Joseph Banks and George III added to its Scandinavian treasures. However it was from the middle of the 19th century onwards, that a more deliberate collection policy was adopted.

It is difficult to give exact figures for the total number of Scandinavian books in the British Library since there is no separate catalogue of Scandinavian holdings in their entirety. However, the Library's catalogue of items acquired since 1975 shows approximately 64,500 records for titles published in Scandinavia, a figure which reflects the level of collecting in recent years. Similarly the Short Title Catalogue of pre-1800 items which numbers some 11,250 titles, reveals the strength of its early collections.

Collection Development Policy

Systematic selection of newly-published material is carried out on a regular basis from the national bibliographies of the various Scandinavian countries. Present collecting policy is to acquire research-level monographs and serials within the humanities and social sciences including bibliographies, reference works, statistics and reports and a representative collection of significant modern literary works. Material is acquired in the whole range of Scandinavian languages (Danish, Faeroese, Finnish, Greenlandic, Icelandic, Norwegian, Saami and Swedish) as well as a significant number of Scandinavian books published in English, and to a lesser extent in other West-European languages.

An exchange scheme with major institutions in Scandinavia (including government bodies, libraries and museums) also operates and thereby many of their publications are received. This has resulted in major holdings of official and government publications, and material relating to the cultural life of the individual Scandinavian countries. The present overall growth rate is somewhere in the order of 2000 separately published monographs per annum and in addition we subscribe to approximately 1500 monographic series and periodicals, which are acquired through purchase, donation and exchange.

As well as acquiring recently published material, the collection of earlier material is still pursued in order to fill gaps.


The early collections have particular strengths in Old Icelandic literature, texts of the Bible, historiography, topography and law, as well as in the natural sciences, including most of the work of Linnaeus and his pupils. The strength of the early collections has been enhanced by the extensive holdings of modern academic and other secondary literature which make it not simply a closed library of older literature but a living research collection.

Within the field of Scandinavian Studies, linguistics, literature, folklore and history are especially well covered. Of particular note is The Hannås Collection, donated in 1984 by Torgrim Hannås, a Norwegian-born antiquarian bookseller living in Britain; it contains dictionaries (over half the items) as well as textbooks, readers, phrase books, and linguistic monographs in all the Scandinavian languages. Another highlight is the collection of 121 printed books and 31 manuscripts acquired by Joseph Banks during a tour of Iceland in 1772, which provides a unique insight into the kind of books to be found in Icelandic homes of that period.
However the British Library's Scandinavian collections are not focused exclusively on material relating to Scandinavia; their coverage is international in scope and includes the majority of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences.

Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) Projects

EGIL - Electronic Gateway to Icelandic Literature: A project aiming to enhance support for research in Icelandic, Old Norse and Viking studies by using collaborative management techniques to develop the collections in a national context and to provide access to them through a subject gateway.

This policy operates under the Library's general policy statements with respect to collection development.

Some of the material acquired under this policy is available for loan or document supply through the Library's Document Supply Service.