The National and University Library of Iceland was founded upon the amalgamation of the National Library and the University Library into the Main Library, Þjóðarbókhlaðan in 1994.
The beginning of a National Library for Iceland came about in 1818 upon the proposal of the Danish classicist Carl Christan Rafn. Originally the Library was called „Stiftisbókasafn“. It was housed on the second floor of the Cathedral in Reykjavík. Jón Árnason, avid collector of folktales, became the first librarian, hired in 1848.
The library collection at that time amounted to 5-6000 printed books. In 1846 the Library received the manuscript collection of Bishop Steingrímur Jónsson and in the year 1877 the Parliament purchased the collection of Jón Sigurðsson, president of the Icelandic Literary Society.
In 1881 the Library was moved to the newly-erected building of Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament. The number of printed books and manuscripts at that time amounted to 19 thousand. In 1886 the Icelandic printing presses were required to deposit to the Library two copies of all printed matters. Around 1900 the manuscript collection of the Icelandic Literary Society was purchased for the Library. At that time, a full-time librarian was appointed on permanent basis.
The Library moved to a new building Safnahúsið at Hverfisgata in 1909. The library building was at that time, one of the largest and most elegant building in the country. The National Library was located there for 85 years, sharing the premises with the Icelandic National Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The University Library was formally founded in 1940, but its history dates back almost one century or to the time the School of Theology was founded in 1847. The School of Theology, the School of Medicine, (founded 1876) and the School of Law (founded in 1908) built up libraries that became the property of the Schools after the foundation of the University of Iceland in 1911. The Department of Philosophy, which was founded at the same time as the University, soon had its own collection. When the Main Building of the University was opened in 1940, the libraries were amalgamated into one University Library which was located in a back-wing of the building and was opened on November 1, 1940.
The library collection then amounted to 30 thousand books. In 1941 it was put into legislation that the University Library should get one copy of everything printed in the country. Up the year 1964 there was only one librarian working in the Library, but the staff increased gradually, and when the library was amalgamated with the National Library in 1994 the staff was about 20. Then the number of volumes in the Library was about 345 thousand.
Discussions on the amalgamation of the National Library and the University Library started during the 1950s. In 1956 a committee was set up to prepare for the amalgamation of the two libraries, and in 1978 a building to house both libraries was initiated. The architects for this new building were Manfreð Vilhjálmsson and Þorvaldur S. Þorvaldsson.
Early in 1990 a computerised library system was purchased for both libraries. The system was also of use for other libraries in the country. It was formally opened in December 1991, by the name of Gegnir (now leitir.is).
The new and amalgamated library, the National and University Library of Iceland, was formally opened in Þjóðarbókhlaða on Thursday, December 1, 1994. Thereby a large and effective library came into being with good working facilities for the public and for the students of the University of Iceland.
The legislation on the National and University of Iceland from 1994 specifies the role of the Library. It is the National Library of Iceland and the Library of the University of Iceland, and as a research library it is to provide information services in the field of science and scholarship, public administration and economy.
From the beginning the Library has been very popular for both student and the whole public. The information provision in electronic form has grown every year, and the Library now serves several websites where library material is distributed one way or another.
Landsbókasafn Íslands - Háskólabókasafn fyrstu fimm árin : 1. desember 1994 - 1. desember 1999, Einar Sigurðsson og Þórir Ragnarsson (ritstj.), Reykjavík : Landsbókasafn Íslands - Háskólabókasafn, 1999. [In Icelandic.]
Finnbogi Guðmundsson, „Landsbókasafn Íslands 1818-1994“, í Guðrún Pálsdóttir og Sigrún Klara Hannesdóttir (ritstj.) Sál aldanna : safn greina um bókasöfn og skyld efni, [Reykjavík] : Félagsvísindastofnun Háskóla Íslands : Háskólaútgáfan, 1997, s. 81-97.
Jón Jacobson, Landsbókasafn Íslands 1818-1918 : minningarrit, Reykjavík : Landsbókasafn Íslands, 1920. [In Icelandic.]
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