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Libraries in Other Lands: Iceland

by Joseph Moore on 2024-05-07T15:59:55-05:00 | 0 Comments

"Blíndur er bóklaus ma∂ur. Blind is a man without a book.”

-- Icelandic proverb [1]

This summer I am traveling to Iceland. In addition to enjoying a much needed spiritual journey (cue Björk’s “Wanderlust”), I will be visiting several libraries in concert with a course I am taking during the second summer term, LIS 760 International Libraries. 

It is my goal to visit the Reykjavík City Library, the National and University Library of Iceland, and The Nordic House – all of which can be found in the small country’s capital. Somewhere in between worshiping the Northern Lights and finding out once and for all whether the Huldufólk truly exist, I aim to familiarize myself with “the enormous contribution to Western culture made by this small nation on the fringes of European civilization.” [2]

The Nordic House

The Nordic House has a fascinating scope in that its goal is “to foster and support cultural connections between Iceland and other Nordic countries.” [3] The center accomplishes this through diverse programs, cultural activities, and events. I love Robijn’s description in an article for Bookbird: “The blue rooftop merges with the mountain range to the south, and the brightness, transparency, and warmth reflect the objective of the Nordic House.” Naturally, a library containing books and media in all Scandinavian languages is the “heart of the house.”

As an MLIS-MAYL (Youth Literature) dual major here at Dominican, the Nordic House’s focus on children’s literature is of particular interest to me. The center biannually hosts the Mýrin International Children’s Literature Festival, which is organized by several Icelandic literary organizations. In 2016, the Festival symposium included topics such as the influence of Nordic myths on the self-image of Nordic YA-literature, a subject I have considered exploring for my MAYL thesis. A recent exhibit at the children’s library, “Under the Polar Ice,” educates children and families about animals and plant survival in the coldest region of the world, how they are all connected, and how humans can be better caretakers of the environment.

The National and University Library of Iceland

Iceland’s National Library houses nearly every copy of works published in Iceland. This complete catalog benefits posterity and research. [4] In addition to the National Collection, the first floor contains manuscripts and the Women’s History Archive. The main service and circulation desk is on the second floor, along with the UI Center for Writing. Journals, theses and quiet workspaces are on the third floor, while the fourth floor houses music, films, and course reserves. The 150 lockers for guests to store working documents strikes me as a unique feature. [5]


I enjoyed shuffling through the University libguides. While many common items exist such as Course reserves, Interlibrary loans and New titles in the collection, other guides such as Doctoral students, International students, and Viking and Medieval Norse Studies caught my eye. The library also hosts various events and workshops, such as the recently held Workshop Against Procrastination where students gained advice on academic writing, encouragement via writing sprints, and individual assistance for citation and reference management tools like EndNote

Reykjavík City Library

In the video below, I appreciate how the main interviewee, Valli, cherishes the meaning of bókavörður -- a word that means “librarian,” but more specifically translates to “book guardian.” As guardians of books, staff at the Reykjavík City Library perform many tasks familiar to their counterparts in America: recommending books for patrons to read, helping customers make copies, or simply charge their phones. Just like in the states, the library proves to be a haven for those who need a safe, warm place if they have no other home to go to. [6]

Several times, the documentary describes the library as a good place to go to if one is experiencing loneliness. Some of the programs involve games or other social events that provide a low-stress opportunity for people who are learning Icelandic to practice. When it comes to working at the library, Valli feels it does not necessarily have the gendered stereotype that might exist in other cultures. And I found the leadership structure particularly interesting. There are two bosses at the city branch, but “outside of that, I don’t think there’s an hierarchy.”

I wonder if there are some aspects of librarianship modeled here that could benefit libraries in the United States. Perhaps libraries should make a stronger effort to present themselves as a great career path for more diverse populations. There might be even more that libraries can do as institutions to focus on youth learning and literacy. It's easy to romanticize a country that bears the nickname "Land of Fire and Ice." However, Iceland has a truly unique literary heritage and fascinating history. I can't wait to step into their houses of learning with an open mind and see what lovely lessons I may come away with.


[1] Kent, H. (2013). Burial Rites. Little, Brown and Company.

[2] Roth, R. (2019, November 26). Icelandic and Faroese collections at the Library of Congress. LOC.

[3] Robijn, M. (2017). The Nordic House in Reykjavík, Iceland: A house with a big heart for children and literature. Bookbird, 55(3), 36-41.

[4] Law and Regulations in the Library. (n.d.). National and University of Iceland. Retrieved April 30, 2024, from

[5] Law and Regulations in the Library. (n.d.). National and University of Iceland. Retrieved April 30, 2024, from

[6] Chen, Jiaqian. (2021, April 26). Reykjavik public library – Documentary in Iceland. [video]. Youtube.

For Further Reading

Lauramarsch. General Recommendations: Iceland. CPL.

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