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British Library

Title: Icelandic Collections and related material

Description: The British Library has very significant holdings of material relating to Icelandic and Old Norse studies, probably the largest in the country and including rare early Icelandic imprints. Acquisitions were especially strong in the nineteenth century and it is estimated that the collection now numbers between 5,000 and 10,000 volumes.

Concepts: Old Norse language ; Old Norse literature ; Old Norse literature - History and criticism ; Iceland - Description and travel ; Iceland - History ; Civilization, Viking ; Vikings.

Strength: Of particular note is the collection of 121 books and 31 manuscripts brought back from Iceland by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772 and presented to the British Museum the following year. Banks, accompanied by his Swedish librarian, Daniel Solander, among others, travelled through a small part of south eastern Iceland, collecting books and manuscripts, as well as natural specimens. This fine collection, the bulk of which he presented to the Library in 1773, provides a unique insight into the kind of books to be found in Icelandic homes of that period. The majority were of a religious nature and included a copy of the first complete Bible in Icelandic (with woodcuts) printed in Hólar in 1584. However, there were also examples of law, history, fiction, verse and practical manuals.

Accumulation date range: 1759-

Contents date range: 1578-

Catalogue: Printed items are included in the British Library Public Catalogue and manuscript items in the Manuscripts Catalogue.

Accrual status: Present collection policy is to acquire, via purchase, exchange and donation, research-level publications in the humanities and social sciences from Iceland. Material relating to Icelandic studies published outside Iceland itself is also acquired, partly through the British Library's copyright collections, but also through purchase from other countries.

Access control: The majority of the Library's collection of humanities material is held in closed access storage and needs to be identified and ordered from store using a variety of catalogues and bibliographies.

Items consulted in the British Library reading rooms are not available for loan to individuals. Some items can be supplied to other libraries and organisations through interlibrary loan and document supply services, which can be arranged through a local library.

The British Library operates an admission policy which grants access to those who need to use the collection because they cannot find the material they require in other libraries. Further details are available under Reader services on the home page.

Location: British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB.

Contact: Scandinavian Section, Tel.+44 0207 412 7575, Email:


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