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Overviews of the Collections

Norwegian Collections at the Library of Congress

Grant Harris
Chief, European Division

Overview  The Library's collections of monographs, bound periodicals, and annuals include approximately 60,000 titles from or about Norway. The total number of volumes is estimated at 90,000, as many of the individual titles are multi-volume. (The Library has approximately 10,000 additional volumes that focus on Scandinavia as a whole.) These materials cover all disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, with particular strengths in history, language, and literature. Approximately 60 percent of these are in Norwegian and a little more than 15 percent are in English. Danish accounts for nearly 15 percent, with the remaining 10 percent in German, French, Swedish, Russian, Dutch, and more than a dozen other languages. During the 1990s, the Library averaged receipt of approximately 650 monographic titles annually: 580 titles from Norway, 35 Norway-related titles published in the United States, and another 35 Norway-related titles published outside Norway and the United States.

The First Evaluation of the Scandinavian Collections  Norwegian historian Sigmund Skard (1903-95) worked as 'Consultant of the Library of Congress in Scandinavian Culture' for 20 months during 1941-43, and was paid by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Fund for Deplaced [sic] Scholars. The Library has approximately 40 titles written by this eminent scholar. In 1944, Skard turned in his 96-page survey, Report on the Scandinavian Collection, which concentrates primarily on Norway. He found that the Library had 60 percent of the fundamental reference and standard works concerning Norway and 49 percent of the more specialized studies essential to researching that country. In addition, he found even higher proportions of the best works that treat Scandinavia as a whole.

Skard lamented the lack of a systematic acquisitions plan at that time: "During the last generations, librarians of Scandinavian descent (J.C.M. Hanson, J.Chr. Bay, St. Stefansson, Torstein Jahr, Juul Dieserud, and others) have devoted some time to the collections because of their personal interest in the subject. But there has never been any regular service of surveillance or purchase for the section. Outside special fields like Law and Government Publications there seems to have been no continuous checking of Norwegian book catalogs, and very little supplementing and control of holdings and subscriptions."

And yet, a few sentences later Skard praises the overall value of the collection: "This haphazardness is not the real characteristic of the holdings, however. A more thorough investigation soon reveals, that in spite of the obvious lacunas [sic] there are also signs of much good and solid work, which makes the Norwegian section of the Library a real collection, not only a casual heap of books."

As a follow-up to Skard's report, it should be noted that acquisitions from Norway increased significantly for the period 1946-55, dramatically decreased during the years 1956-65 for reasons not readily apparent now, and then reached an all-time high for the years 1966-80. Acquisitions have somewhat lessened since then, but remain at a high plateau: approximately 1,000 volumes from or about Norway arrive at the Library each year.

Rare Books  The Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room has custody of more than 200 volumes from or about Norway. Some of these are more recent printings of the sagas, although most of the rare Norwegian materials were published before 1800. As a general rule, works published before 1801 are found in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room; later publications are usually in the general collections. Because Denmark dominated Norway for several centuries, publishing for Norway was largely centered in Copenhagen. Probably the earliest publication from Norway in the Library's collections is the following:

[Ramus, Jonas], 1649-1718. Guds rige blant verdens riger udi en kort extract af kircke- og verdslige historier fra verdens begyndelse indtil aar Christi 1660. Hoorudi fremvisis kirckens liv og verdens lob og Guds forsiun udi begge, enfoldeligen forestillet af den, som fortrøster sig ved Jesu rige. Christiania, 1706.

[NB: Oslo was called Christiania from 1624 to 1877 and Kristiania from 1877 to 1925; it was renamed Oslo in 1925.]

The eminent author Ludvig Holberg is claimed by both Danes and Norwegians. Many of his early works were printed in Denmark, but one early imprint in our collections is from Norway: Professor Ludwig Holbers lifs og lefnets beskrivelse af ham selv i en epistel til een stoer mand paa latine forfatted (Bergen, 1741).

Henrik Ibsen, considered the founder of modern drama, is arguably the most noted of Norway's authors, which include three early awardees of the Nobel Prize for Literature: novelist Knut Hamsun, playwright/novelist/poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and historical novelist Sigrid Undset. For these three nobelists, the Library of Congress has a combined total of approximately 900 volumes. By contrast, for Ibsen alone, the Library has more than 1,400 volumes. Several of Ibsen's first editions are held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room, such as his Catilina: drama i tre acter (Christiania, 1850). This rare first edition and many others came to the Library as part of the Huitfeldt-Kaas collection.

The Huitfeldt-Kaas Collection   The Annual Report External link of the Librarian of Congress for 1908 indicates on pages 16-19 that the most important purchase of the year was of the private library of Henrik Jørgen Huitfeldt-Kaas (1834-1905), state archivist of Norway. "It contains, for instance, first editions of all the works of Ibsen, Bjørnson, and Jonas Lie, now very difficult to obtain. It also includes many valuable editions of the works of other leading masters of Denmark and Norway during the nineteenth century, a period of remarkable productivity in the literature of these countries. In Scandinavian biography, genealogy, local and theatrical history, the collection numbers many valuable works which at the present time it would be impossible to obtain at any price in open market. Of large sets it contains, besides the 'Diplomatarium,' several of the leading periodicals of Norway and Denmark. There are, for example, the 'Illustreret tidende' complete from the beginning, with files of the chief historical and genealogical periodicals and numerous valuable reference works. Of the early laws of Norway, the collection includes some works which to-day are found in only a few libraries of Europe and probably in no other library of the United States. The entire collection numbers about 5,000 volumes and is in fine condition, Mr. Huitfeldt-Kaas having always taken a great pride in the appearance of his books and personally superintended their binding." The Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room has a list of the items in this collection under the title: Catalogue of the Private Library of the Former State Archivist of Norway.

The European Reading Room   The European Reading Room provides direct access to a large number of reference works on Norway, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, histories, biographical directories, bibliographies, and other reference sources. The reading room makes available for on-site use numerous bibliographic databases and full-text resources, many of which contain citations or texts pertaining to Norway. The multilingual reference staff provides research guidance in using these resources. Materials from the general collections can be requested in this reading room or in several other reading rooms.

Serials   The Library's collections include runs of more than 1,500 retrospective or current newspapers, magazines, journals, bulletins, annuals, and other serials from or about Norway. Most of these are in the general collections. Several specialized serials will be mentioned below within the various sections of this description. Current Norwegian periodicals are available in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. In addition, that reading room provides holdings of current and retrospective Norwegian newspapers.

Two Languages   There are two official variants of Norwegian. One is known as Bokmål or Riksmål and is closer to Danish because of Denmark's long dominance over Norway; this version of Norwegian predominates in Oslo and much of the east and low-lying south, and is used for most publishing. The other variant of Norwegian is Nynorsk (New Norwegian), which derives from the language spoken in the countryside and is less influenced by Danish, and which predominates in the west and in rural areas. Both are official languages. (Nynorsk became official alongside Riksmål in 1885.) Twenty-five percent of national broadcasts are in Nynorsk. In the areas where the majority of the population uses Nynorsk, it is the language of instruction in schools. All schoolchildren must write compositions in both variants of Norwegian.

Nynorsk   Ivar Aasen compiled the first grammar of Nynorsk in 1848, Det Norske folkesprogs grammatik, and the first Nynorsk dictionary in 1850, Norsk ordbog: med dansk forklaring. The Library has facsimile reproductions of both of these books. Aasen continued to develop both of these works, and issued his definitive dictionary in 1873, of which the Library has an original copy. As Aasen developed his grammar he dropped the term folkesprog ('people's language') and published the definitive edition as Norsk Grammatik in 1864 (the Library has several later reprints, beginning with one in 1899), formulating the written norm for Nynorsk.

Both Aasen and Aasmund Olafsson Vinje published poetry in Nynorsk in the 1850s. Vinje began the weekly review Dølen (1858-70), which employed Nynorsk in a modern journalistic style and made it a common idiom. The Library has a reprint of the entire run of this journal. Aasen and Vinje were joined by novelist Arne Garborg in the 1870s. Later Nynorsk writers of note are novelists Olav Duun (1876-1939); Kristofer Uppdal (1878-1961); poet/novelist Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970); and more recently, poet/novelist Kjartan Fløgstad (1944-) and novelist Edvard Hoem (1949-). The Library has these authors' works and many translations into English.

According to Jostein Fet's bibliography New Norse Literature in English Translation, 1880-1982, the earliest translation from Nynorsk into English is Kristofer Janson's The Spell-Bound Fiddler in 1880. The Library has the second edition, which appeared in 1884.

Norwegian-Americans   The US Census of 2000 reported nearly 4.5 million Americans of Norwegian ancestry. The Library has approximately 450 monographs that focus on the subjects of Norwegians in the United States and Norwegian-Americans.

Many materials relating to Norwegian-Americans are found in the Library's Local History and Genealogy Reading Room. Its Web site features the guide Norwegian-American Immigration and Local History: Introduction. Paper copies of this guide are available in the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room. Researchers in the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room also should ask for the vertical file folder labeled "Norway--Genealogy," which contains ephemera not found elsewhere in the Library of Congress.

Norwegian-American Writers   The Library has several hundred Norwegian language books and serials written and published in the United States by immigrants from Norway to this country, and, to a lesser extent, by authors born in the United States who chose to write in the language they heard their immigrant parents speaking at home. The Library's collection of Norwegian American books includes works of literature, history, practical manuals, and religious works. Norwegian language newspapers account for most of the Norwegian American serials held at the Library, but there are also magazines, journals, and annuals.

Noted Norwegian American fiction writers whose works are at the Library include Hans A. Foss, Peer Olsen Strømme, Johannes B. Wist, Waldemar Ager, and Ole Edvart Rolvaag. Some of their works are available in English translation. The Library has all issues of the distinguished literary journal Symra, published in Decorah, Iowa, between 1905 and 1914, and a copy of Norske Kvad, an anthology of Norwegian poetry edited by Kristian Prestgard, one of Symra's editors. Also available to researchers are decades of America's most important Norwegian language newspaper, Decorah Posten, as well as many other serials, such as the magazine For Hjemmet and the annual, Jul i Vesterheimen.

Local History and Genealogy in Norway   The Library has more than 750 works pertaining to genealogy, heraldry, and nobility in Norway. Searching on the word bygdebok (loosely translated as 'rural district book' or 'village book') retrieves more than 180 catalog records for monographs that describe the local history/genealogy of a rural district or village.

The Library has approximately 3,000 works pertaining to local history in Norway. More than 800 of these works concern Oslo, and approximately 700 others concern the cities of Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Lillehammer, Kristiansand, or Tromso. More than 200 works discuss Svalbard, a group of Norwegian islands further north than Iceland. On average, there are about 50 books pertaining to each of Norway's 19 counties.

The American Folklife Center   The Library's American Folklife Center includes resources illustrating Norwegian-American cultural traditions. Among these resources are sound recordings from the 1940s-60s of songs, fiddle tunes, and interviews from Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection includes documentation in both sound and photographs of Chicago's Norwegian-American community in the year 1981, primarily focusing on the Norwegian Independence Day Parade, foodways, crafts (rosemaling), music, church services, and interviews with members of the community regarding immigration, occupations, and the importance of continuing Norwegian traditions.

Law   The Law Library Reading Room holds more than 1,700 monographic titles pertaining to law in Norway. Among the reading room's resources are more than 30 Norwegian law periodicals, such as a virtually complete set of Norwegian official gazettes up to the present time. The first official gazette, Love, anordninger, kundgjørelser, aabne breve, resolutioner. . ., covers laws from the time of the 1814 constitution until 1876. The Library's holdings are nearly complete for two other longstanding journals: Norsk retstidende (1836-present), a Norwegian law digest, and Tidsskrift for rettsvidenskap (1888-present), an academic law journal from the Scandinavian University Press in Oslo.

Manuscripts   The Manuscript Division focuses on Americana, but includes manuscripts with Norwegian-American connections, such as the papers of Norwegian-born aviator, Bernt Balchen, who assisted with historic American flights over the North and South poles.

Cartographic Materials   The Geography and Map Reading Room provides access to millions of maps, atlases, and other cartographic materials, including thousands of maps pertaining to Norway. These comprise general, specialized, city, and other maps from the past six centuries. To view maps that have been digitized by the Library of Congress, see Map Collections.

Prints & Photographs   For photographs and other images, see the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Some of the items listed in that catalog have been digitized.

Music and Recorded Sound   The Music Division has excellent resources on Norwegian music and dance, including over 150 general monographs on the subjects and hundreds more monographs relating to particular Norwegian composers and musicians. Over 125 books discuss the life and works of composer Edvard Grieg, for instance. The division has a large collection of sound recordings and printed music, such as scores and sheet music, but not all scores and recordings are listed in the online catalog. Interested researchers should check the various card catalogs in the division for access to the full collections. For example, even though the online catalog contains records for more than 400 sound recordings and over 70 examples of sheet music and scores by Grieg, many more are noted only in the division's card catalogs. The division has letters and holograph manuscript scores by Grieg and other notable composers from Norway, such as Ole Bull (1810-80).

Additional Norwegian resources at the Library of Congress

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  February 23, 2017
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