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Norwegian Collections

Our Norwegian Collections are the largest in the United Kingdom and the most comprehensive outside Scandinavia. We select and acquire, as widely as possible, via purchase, exchange and donation, publications of research value from Norway in the humanities and social sciences.

Introduction to the Norwegian Collections | Related Norwegian material elsewhere in the British Library | Related Norwegian Internet resources

Introduction to the Norwegian Collections

History

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. The bulk of these came from the library of Sir Hans Sloane, largely in the fields of medicine and natural sciences but also in those of antiquities, history, topography, philosophy, theology and law. In the early years of the British Museum there was no regular acquisitions grant and each purchase had to be approved in advance by Trustees. Identifiable examples of Norwegian purchases in that period include the Norwegian Konungs skuggsjá, (Sorø, 1768) (British Library shelfmark 590.h.6). A sizeable addition to the Scandinavian holdings during the beginning of the 19th century, came with the gift of Sir Joseph Banks’s Library, which arrived in the British Museum in 1827. A significant number of Banksian items were Scandinavian, largely on natural history subjects. The Banks Library included the proceedings of the Norwegian Royal Academy of Science, as well as those of other societies

The King’s Library, which was acquired in 1823 and finally came to the Museum in 1828, contained over a thousand Scandinavian books and pamphlets dating from before 1801, mostly in the humanities. Scandinavian material in the King’s Library was carefully selected, with particular strengths in history and biography, topography and law. It included a dozen scholarly journals, many university theses, bibliographies and text collections. Among the topographical works, were those of Peder Claussøn (Topographia Norwegiæ, [Copenhagen], 1685 (154.d.26)) and Petter Dass (Beskrivelse over Nordlands Amt, Copenhagen, 1763 (154.a.26)) on Norway. Two important examples of the first works on the Norwegian language to be published in Norway: Erik Pontoppidan’s Glossarium norvagicum (Bergen, 1749) (236.e.28(1)) and J.N.Wilse’s Norsk Ordbog (Christiania, 1780) (236.e.28(2)) were also included.

The acquisition of the Grenville Library in 1847 added yet more rare Scandinavian items to the collections but the middle of the nineteenth century onwards saw the adoption of a more deliberate collection policy. In 1837, the new keeper, Antonio Panizzi proposed that the Museum should acquire more standard foreign works, including "literary journals, transactions of learned societies … newspapers and collections of laws". This approach was certainly reflected in the materials purchased from Scandinavia during the next years.

In a report to Panizzi in 1861, his assistant, Thomas Watts, expressed the view that the Museum should aim to build up "the best collection of books in every European language outside the countries of origin". That aim certainly appears to have been realised for Norwegian material over the next decades and into the 20th century, despite financial cutbacks at various times. Coverage of the language issue peculiar to Norway is a particular strength. The work of Ivar Aasen is well represented with early editions of his dictionaries Ordbog over det Norske Folkesprog, 1850 (1332.d.43) and Det Norske Folkesprogs Grammatik, 1848 (1332.d.44). For researchers in this area, the original texts are also complemented by contemporary and recent secondary literature.

Present scope and development

In 1973, the British Library was established: the Norwegian Collections, along with the other library collections of the British Museum, became part of the new national library of the United Kingdom. Nowadays, the Library does not generally acquire complete collections, whether from institutions or individual donors. Instead it carries out the systematic selection of newly-published materials on a regular basis.

It is difficult to give exact figures for the total number of Norwegian books in the British Library since there is no separate catalogue of Norwegian holdings. The Library’s catalogue of items acquired since 1975 shows approximately 8,900 records for titles published in Norway. The present growth rate is somewhere in the order of 350 separately published monographs per annum. We also subscribe to approximately 240 monographic series and periodicals. Selection is carried out systematically from the fortnightly lists of Norsk bokfortegnelse, the Norwegian national bibliography. Present collecting policy is to acquire research level monographs and serials within the humanities and social sciences including bibliographies, reference works, official statistics and reports and a representative collection of significant modern literary works.

We also operate an exchange scheme with major institutions in Norway (including government bodies, libraries, and museums) and currently receive many of their publications, and therefore have major holdings of official and government publications (among these, a wide range of statistical titles from Statistisk sentralbyrå).

Occasionally, we do still receive major donations. The Hannås Collection of Scandinavian Linguistic Literature was donated to the Library in 1984 by Torgrim Hannås, a Norwegian-born antiquarian bookseller living in Britain. The collection includes some 710 items, in all the Scandinavian languages, of which about three quarters date from before 1851. Just over half of the collection consists of dictionaries, the rest being divided between textbooks, readers, phrase books etc and linguistic monographs.

Within the Norwegian Collections many languages are represented; as well as Norwegian (both bokmål and nynorsk) and Saami, as one might expect, material is bought in other European languages, including a significant number of Norwegian books published in English. Within the field of Norwegian studies, the collection has particular strengths in linguistics, literature and history. It is also strong in local history publications and we have bygdebøker for many parts of Norway. However the British Library’s Norwegian Collections are not focused exclusively on material relating to Norway; their coverage is international in scope and includes an extensive range of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences.

Catalogues

Hogg, Peter: The Hannås Collection: catalogue of a collection of Scandinavian dictionaries, grammars and linguistic literature presented to the British Library by Torgrim Hannås. London, 1994

A Scandinavian short title catalogue to 1800, begun in 1992, is now nearing completion.

Related Norwegian material elsewhere in the British Library

The Norwegian Collections are normally consulted in the Humanities Reading Room at St Pancras, except for pre-1851 books and periodicals which are consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room there. For our extensive collection of Norwegian official and government publications, it is also worth consulting the Social Policy Information Service (SPIS) - formerly known as the Official Publications Library - which are usually read in the SPIS Reading Room at St Pancras.

Related Norwegian material is held in other parts of the British Library:

Recorded sound is held by the Sound Archive. Manuscripts are held by Manuscript Collections. Newspapers are held in British Library Newspapers. Scientific monographs are held by Science Technology & Business (STB). Social sciences and scientific serials and conference proceedings are held by the Document Supply service in Boston Spa. Other Norwegian material is held by Map, Music, and Philatelic Collections.

Related Norwegian internet resources

Library and booktrade

Official

General

  • The Nordic Pages
    Selected Internet resources from the Nordic countries, including Norway
  • Scandinavian Studies Web
    (Association of College and Research Libraries, Western European Specialists Section)
    Links to many Norwegian sites, both general and subject-based

Contact

Scandinavian Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7575
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7578

E-mail: scandinavian-enquiries@bl.uk