Quick Facts

  • The National Library of Sweden has roots in Gustav Vasa’s book collection from the 1520s
  • A copy of all books and other materials printed in Sweden is required to be delivered to the library
  • Current building at Humlegården was opened in 1878
  • There are over 18 million printed items and 8 million hours of multimedia stored on 14 floors

The National Library of Sweden (Kungliga biblioteket) is likely one of those places you would not normally pay any particular attention to. Sure, its historical building might catch your interest for a while but it is not too obvious at first sight how special the facilities in which the library resides are. Nor would you be able to see the impressive story behind the institution itself. In this post, we are going to discover both.

National Library of Sweden in Stockholm

Origins of the Library

The roots of the National Library date back to the era of King Gustav Vasa who liberated Sweden in the 1520s. At that point, the institution was not official and it was not until the end of the 16th century that it got its first proper facilities in Tre Kronor Palace. However, a list of all collected books existed since 1568 when King Eric XIV (Erik XIV), a son of Gustav Vasa, ordered it to be made.

Acquisition and Loss of Some of the Most Valuable Pieces

A lot has changed for the library throughout the 17th century, though. The first Royal librarian was named in the early 1610s. Sweden becoming a great power had a substantial effect on the country’s significance in the artistic world, too. During the Thirty Years’ War, which turned out to be a great success for the nation, Swedish troops seized many valuable books and manuscripts from palaces and monasteries across continental Europe.

National Library of Sweden in Stockholm

When Queen Christina decided to leave Sweden for Italy in 1654, she took a large collection of valuable art, including books, with her. Therefore, many of the most valuable pieces previously stored in the library in Tre Kronor Palace were gone forever. Most of these books are now stored in the Vatican Library.

That was not the end of bad news for the National Library, though. In 1697, the Tre Kronor Palace, where the library still resided, burned down. On that day, around three-quarters of the books stored there disappeared together with the palace.

The Devil’s Bible
Likely the most well-known manuscript stored in the National Library of Sweden is the Devil’s Bible, which is also considered to be the world’s largest surviving medieval manuscript. According to a legend, this bible was written by a monk in Bohemia, present-day Czechia, with the help of the Devil in the Middle Ages.

The invaluable book was seized by Swedish troops in 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, in Prague and has remained in Stockholm ever since. It is said that it was saved from the fire at Tre Kronor Palace by someone throwing it out of a window on the street where the book weighing almost 75kg injured another person.

National Library of Sweden in Stockholm

The Library Gets a New Home

After residing in temporary facilities, the library received a more permanent home at the new Royal Palace. Fast forward, in 1878, the first building specially designed and built for the National Library of Sweden was opened at Humlegården. This building was constructed to house all books and other kinds of printed materials printed in Sweden.

Bernadotte Library
The former facilities of the National Library of Sweden in the Royal Palace still serve as a library today. It is called the Bernadotte Library (Benadottebiblioteket) after the reigning dynasty and stores the book collection of the Royal Family consisting of approximately 100,000 books.

Entrance to the National Library of Sweden in Stockholm

According to a law introduced in 1661, a copy of every single publication printed in Sweden must be delivered to the National Library. At current times, that means that roughly 500 books and countless other materials are delivered to the library every week. Just imagine how many publications the library holds if there is every single book, every single issue of Swedish daily press, and a tonne of other items printed since 1661!

Of course, this impressive number of items also results in some problems the library needs to deal with. The new building at Humlegården was too small already from the beginning. Additional wings were constructed in the 1920s because of that and later, multiple underground floors have been added in two different stages. With that being said, the library building is not quite what you probably think it is when you look at it from the park.

National Library of Sweden, Stockholm

Why the National Library of Sweden is So Impressive

Even though it looks as a two-floor building from the outside, the books are in fact stored on 14 floors. The windows and reading halls span over two floors, which gives you the illusion of the building only having two floors. However, the truly impressive part is the ten underground floors where all books are now stored. According to the authorities, the current capacity of the library should suffice until approximately 2050.

Humlegården in Stockholm

Currently, there are close to 20 million printed materials and 8 million hours of audio-visual content available to the public in the library. These include Codex Aureus, a gospel book from ca. 750, and two copies of the first book ever printed in Sweden from 1483. Virtually all of the items the library holds are accessible to the public within the library’s facilities. However, it is not possible to take them home. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, as the original 19th-century interior of the library is a pretty enjoyable environment for reading both old and new literature.

I hope you find the story of the National Library of Sweden at least as interesting as I do and that you will get a chance to visit it someday. If you liked this story, make sure to come back to Trevl for more and perhaps, share it with someone you think might enjoy it, too.

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Carlsson-Lénart, Mats, 2013. Underjordiska skatter.

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