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Swedish Collections

Our Swedish collections of the British Library, which are the largest in the United Kingdom and probably the most comprehensive anywhere outside Scandinavia. Our aim is to select and acquire, as widely as possible, via purchase, exchange and donation, publications of research value from Sweden in the humanities and social sciences. Our holdings are listed in Explore the British Library.

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

Introduction to the Swedish Collections


Johan August Strindberg, Svenska öden och äfventyr (Stockholm, 1904). Copyright © The British Library Board



The Library of the British Museum opened in 1759, and its foundation collections contained several hundred books from Sweden, largely from the library of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), although mainly those in Latin rather than in the vernacular. Particularly well represented were Swedish publications in the fields of: medicine, the natural sciences, antiquities, history and topography, philosophy, theology, and law. Notably, Sloane had acquired the Stockholm edition of the Gothic Gospels of Ulfilas, printed in 1671 from the Codex Argenteus in Uppsala University. Sloane had also collected dictionaries, including Jacob Serenius’s Dictionarium Anglo-Suethico-Latinum which was printed in Hamburg in 1734 (British Library shelfmark 628.l.2), scientific serials such as Swedenborg’s Daedalus Hyperboreus (1716-1717) and the proceedings of the Swedish Academy of Sciences from 1739 onwards, later completed from the Banks Library.

A significant increase in the Swedish Collections came with the gift of the Banks Library in 1820, physically transferred to the British Museum in 1827, which is especially strong in natural history subjects. 187 publications by Linnaeus, added to those already in the Library, created the core of its extensive collection of Linnaeana. The King’s Library, which was acquired in 1823 and arrived at the British Museum in 1828, also contained important Swedish publications, particularly those in history, biography, topography, and law. One of its highlights is a copy of the Bautil (143.g.19), the collection of 1,100 illustrations of Swedish runestones published in Stockholm by the Swedish national antiquarian, Johan Göransson, in 1750.

The acquisition of the Grenville Library in 1847 added yet more important Swedish publications to the Library. Systematic acquisition of Swedish publications began in the 1840s under the guidance of Antonio Panizzi’s assistant, Thomas Watts (1811-1869), the author of the much quoted words that the aim of the British Museum Library was: "to unite with the best English library in the world the best Russian library out of Russia, the best German out of Germany, the best Spanish out of Spain, and so for every language, from Italian to Icelandic, from Polish to Portuguese".

1892 brought with it a large collection of Swedish university theses, donated by Uppsala University Library. The pre-1801 items, which amount to some 3,000 titles, have been individually catalogued; the remainder, of over 5,000 titles, are listed under the headings for the universities where they were presented: Uppsala, Lund, Åbo, and Helsinki.

Present scope and development

In 1973, the British Library was established: the Swedish 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. Our aim is to continue, in the words of Watts (and in the tradition of Panizzi) to build "the best collection of books in every European language outside the countries of origin". We operate an exchange scheme with major institutions in Sweden (including government bodies, libraries, and museums) and currently receive many of their publications, and therefore have major holdings of official and government publications.

For Sweden, materials are selected systematically from the cumulations of the national bibliography listed in Svensk Bokforteckning. It is our aim to represent in the British Library Swedish culture, tradition, and national heritage as it is reflected in the publishing output of Sweden. Consequently, our holdings are especially significant in the fields of: history, regional studies, the geography and archaeology of Sweden, and its folklore and traditional customs. Primary texts of contemporary Swedish belles lettres are acquired comprehensively if they are considered to be of serious literary merit, as are all scholarly works about Swedish literature. Other collection strengths include books in the fields of Nordic art, as well as politics and theology. Issues and policies world-wide which relate to social welfare and sociology often reflect the ‘Swedish model’: our holdings in this area are accordingly very strong.

Occasionally, we still receive major donations. The most recent, large donation of Swedish material came to the Library with the Hannås Collection of Scandinavian Linguistic Literature, donated in 1984 by Torgrim Hannås, a Norwegian-born antiquarian bookseller living in Britain. The collection contains dictionaries (over half the items) as well as textbooks, readers, phrase books, and linguistic monographs in all the Scandinavian languages, and Sweden is particularly well represented.

Whilst traditionally the British Library holds large amounts of popular and ephemeral materials not usually found in academic libraries, nowadays we regard ourselves primarily as a research library. Consequently, low-level treatments of any subject, manuals, and materials which will go out of date quickly are generally excluded. The focus is on academic materials, both books and periodicals, of current and future research value.

Materials from Sweden are acquired not only in Swedish but in all other European languages as well, when they are about Sweden. In particular, publications from Sweden concerned with the United Kingdom, or which compare Sweden and the United Kingdom, are acquired as comprehensively as possible. The same is true of Swedish publications dealing with comparative aspects of the Scandinavian and Nordic countries generally or those which complement our existing historical holdings.


‘Stockholm’. Johan August Berg, Sverige framstäldt i taflor (Göteborg, 1856). British Library 1267.h.43. Copyright © The British Library Board


A catalogue of the works of Linnaeus - and publications relating thereto - preserved in the Libraries of the British Museum, Bloomsbury, and the British Museum, Natural History, South Kensington. 2nd ed. Revised and enlarged by Basil H. Soulsby. London, 1933.

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 Swedish material elsewhere in the British Library

The Swedish 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 Swedish official and government publications, it is also worth consulting the Social Policy Information Service (SPIS) collections - formerly known as the Official Publications Library - which are usually read in the SPIS Reading Room at St Pancras.

Related Swedish 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 Swedish material is held by Map, Music, and Philatelic Collections.

Related Swedish Internet resources

Library and booktrade




Scandinavian Section
The British Library
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United Kingdom

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