Icelandic collections

Whilst Finnish language items have never been energetically collected in the University Library, it has substantial collections of material in the other Scandinavian languages – Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish. Two librarians with special responsibility for Scandinavian studies built up our collections over half a century. F.T.K. Caröe had been the principal planner of the massive operation by which the University Library was moved from its old to its present premises in 1934. He retired in 1963, and in his obituary in the Staff Bulletin in January 1971, Deputy Librarian John Oates paid tribute to Caröe’s interest in the Scandinavian literatures, “his deep knowledge of which he used indefatigably in the interests of the University Library”. His successor Dr J.B. Dodsworth, who was appointed in October 1965, carried on that tradition, but since Dr Dodsworth’s retirement in 1998, collection development in this area has significantly diminished.

Scandinavian was dropped as a Tripos subject in the early 1990s, and although the Faculty library retained a core collection of material, most of its holdings were redistributed between the University Library, the library for Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, and University College London. The University Library’s existing collections were kept intact, and we still buy a little material each year in subject areas such as history, archaeology, fine art, linguistics and music, but on nothing like the scale we maintained for much of the twentieth century. No attempt is made, for example, to develop collections of contemporary literature. Over the past decade we have bought about 100 books in Scandinavian languages each year, which are supplemented by 20-30 donations. Scandinavian titles also constitute a small component in some of the special collections which have recently been processed, such as the Lindgren-Utsi donation and the two libraries of film material.

Of the four languages, coverage in Icelandic has seen the greatest decline. We still have a few standing orders, and a few titles are acquired to support teaching and research in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, but Icelandic is the most challenging of the four languages for the non-speaker, so we don’t have the resources to do more. Icelandic publications were Dr Dodsworth’s overriding interest (his wife was Icelandic and he visited Iceland regularly), so our inability to build on the substantial foundations he constructed is unfortunate. In total there are 4626 Icelandic titles in the Library, including 520 published in the 1970s, 625 in the 1980s, 587 in the 1990s, 83 in the 2000s and 13 so far in the 2010s.

516-518 hodgson's May 18-19, 1911

Entry in the Hodgson sale catalogue of May 18-19, 1911.

A special collection of our earlier Icelandic holdings, dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, stands at CCD.19.1- This class was started in 1961, to provide a suitable place for a collection of about 100 18th and 19th century books purchased at Hodgson’s in 1911 (sale of May 18-19, lots 516-518) and for a collection of about 40 16th, 17th and 18th century books presented in 1927 by Sir Herbert Thompson, the distinguished Egyptologist. At the same time some 40 volumes of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which had been bought or presented at various times, were transferred from other classes and incorporated in the collection, together with some early runs of periodicals (about 30 volumes) which were purchased in 1872 and 1873. Our illustrations are taken from a 1688 volume on Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway from 995 to 1000, bought from David’s bookstall on Cambridge market on March 23rd 1906 (CDD.19.31).


Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway (CDD.19.31)

In total the Library has 15 Icelandic books published in the 17th century and 166 published in the 18th century. In 1961 the earliest titles we held were published in 1584 (Young.48) and 1589 (CCD.19.1), but when the Bible Society Library was deposited in 1985 two earlier Icelandic imprints entered the collections. The Roskilde 1540 publication of Þt̄ta er hid nya Testament, Jesu Christi eiginlig ord & Euangelia huer han̄ sialfr predikadi & kendi, hier i heime, Sem hn̄s postular & Gudzpiallamen̄ sidan skrifudu (BSS.214.B40) is regarded as the edition princeps of the Icelandic New Testament, translated by Oddur Gottskálksson, in a style which is highly esteemed by Icelandic scholars. Our copy is unfortunately imperfect.

David Lowe

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