The Helsinki University Library and its History
The Royal Academy in Turku
The history of the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Library is to a great extent part of the history of the kingdom of Sweden and later the Russian empire. The old gymnasium in Turku was in 1640 converted into a university, the Royal Academy in Turku. The University of Uppsala was founded as early as 1477 (re-established 1593), and the Royal Academy in Dorpat (today Tartu in Estonia) was founded in 1632. The gymnasium had a book collection containing 20 volumes, and that was the beginning of the library of the Royal Academy. The library's collections grew steadily through donations and other acquisitions. In 1642 the Academy employed Peder Wald as a printer, and book printing started in Finland. Earlier all books in Finland, including Mikael Agricola's ABC book from 1543, were printed either in Sweden or Germany.
By a royal decree of 1707, all printers in Sweden had to send one copy of every publication to the universities in the realm. By 1755 the Royal Academy's collections had grown to 4000 volumes, and by the beginning of the 19th century to 30,000 volumes. The growth was most rapid during the last decades of the 18th century when Henrik Gabriel Porthan was a librarian and later a professor. (During the wars between Sweden and Russia the Academy's library was evacuated to Stockholm.)
From 1809 to 1917 Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire. During that period Finland had the right to deposit copies of all publications printed in Russia. A separate institution, the Russian Library of the University, was incorporated into the University Library in 1924. The Russian deposits resulted in the largest collection of literature in Russian and the languages of other Russian nationalities from the time before 1917. They are today used by scholars from all over the world and by publishers of facsimile editions.
Henrik Gabriel Porthan (J. E. Hedberg) and Fredrik Wilhelm Pipping (C. P. Mazer)
From Turku to Helsinki
The library of the Royal Academy in Turku with all its 40,000 books, acquired over almost two centuries, was destroyed on the 4th of September 1827 in a great fire that devasted the whole town, including the university and the cathedral. Only some 800 books that were lent out were saved, and today these form the Aboaica collection. The university had to rebuild its library collections, but the archives of the university were saved.
The university was transferred to Helsinki and reopened in 1828 under the name the Imperial Alexander University of Finland. It was first placed in temporary locations until architect Carl Ludvig Engel's university building was opened in 1832 and his new library building north of it in 1845.
The University Library, the Nicholas Church and the Main Guards | Lithography: F. Tengström, 1838
The Senate had a library (Offentliga biblioteket) with 6000 volumes which was donated to the university as a basis for the university library. It was first placed in a wing of the Senate Building. The collections grew through monetary gifts and donations of books. St. Petersburg donated some private libraries. The Imperial Science Academy and many universities also donated books. F.W. Pipping was a librarian at that time, and assisted by the book collector Matti Pohto, he rebuilt the Library's national collection.
The use of the Library also grew. Opening hours could be extended also to evenings when electric lights were installed in 1893. That year the large Reading Room with its reference collections was opened. The Library gained substantially more space when the Rotunda, a semicircular booktower designed by architect Gustaf Nyström, was opened in 1906. By the time Finland became independent in 1917, the collections had grown to 300,000 volumes.
The Reading Room in the North Hall | The booktower Rotunda with C.E. Sjöstrand's bust of Porthan
In spite of the enlargement, the collections soon needed more space. In the 1950s architect Aarne Ervi designed stacks that were built underground, reaching as far as the Porthania building. In Urajärvi in Asikkala a depository library was built for less used materials and microfilmed newspapers. The Library had finally filled the whole block called the Zebra when the Department of Pharmacy moved to Viikki at the end of the 1990s. Large new facilities were constructed in a cave under the City Campus, and thus all the collections that had previously been placed in several stacks in different parts of the city now received permanent stacks quite near the Library's main building.
In 1995 the Library's collections and services received an important addition when the America Center Library was linked to the Library through an agreement between the Embassy of the United States and the University. The American Resource Center is in the library block in the Fabiania building.
From papyrus to electronic publications
The Helsinki University Library has today some 2.6 million books and perodicals and the same amount of special materials, such as manuscripts, maps, printed music, posters and ephemera. Of the special collections especially notable are the A.E. Nordenskiöld Collection, famous for its maps, the Monrepos Manor Library and the Jean Sibelius Music Manuscripts. Since 1982 the Library has received legal deposit copies of recordings and is now building a National Archive of Recorded Music. The collections of music literature and recordings are complemented by a continuously growing collection of musical manuscripts.
The oldest item in the library is a papyrus collection from the 3rd century B.C. The oldest vellum texts are from about 1100. The fragments of the psalter of Mainz (Psalterium Moguntinum) from 1457 are the oldest printed materials in the Library. The oldest complete book is De sermonum proprietate, sive opus de universo, by Rabanus Maurus, printed in Strassburg by Adolf Rusch in 1467. The first book printed for Finland is the mass book Missale Aboense. It was printed by Bartholomeus Ghotan in Lübeck in 1488.
The Graduale Aboense A manuscript from the turn of the 15th century | The title page of the first Finnish Bible from 1642
Electronic publications and collection catalogues are the current reality in the Library, and the duties of the National Library have grown considerably, especially in the electronic publication sector. The Finnish academic libraries have a unified library system, which makes it easier to use their collections and services. On the web it is easy to use the library collections of other countries. Extra joint funding from the Ministry of Education has made it possible to buy electronic periodicals and reference services for joint use by scholars. This has offered an economic and functional way of acquiring materials for the research work in an information society. The Library is preparing to take over the long-term preservation of deposits of electronic publications so that they can be accessed throughout the country on the Internet.
A library serving the nation
The National Library is responsible for the preservation of the published cultural heritage and accumulates collections of literature in the field of the liberal arts in particular.
The computerisation of library lending and cataloguing in Finland started in the 1970s. The following decade made reference data available to the general public, and remote use of this information became more common. The National Library has been at the forefront of the digital development of Finnish libraries and particularly research libraries.
The rapid growth of information networks and electronic publishing in the 1990s and 2000s has revolutionised the possibilities of information retrieval as well as library practices. Centralised acquisitions of scientific online journals were initiated in the late 1990s, laying the foundation for the National Electronic Library FinELib. Today, FinELib is responsible for acquiring user licenses for Finnish and international electronic materials for libraries and research institutes. The National Library is also a service centre for all Finnish libraries, providing joint services for the libraries of universities and universities of applied sciences as well as for public and special libraries.
In 1990 the Centre for Preservation and Digitisation was founded in Mikkeli. The National Library digitises its printed collections, improving their accessibility and protecting the original materials from wear and tear.
As provided by the amendment to the Universities Act, the Finnish name of the library changed from Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto, Helsinki University Library, to Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland, on 1 August 2006. During the same year, the National Library started to collect material published in open information networks. Entering into force in 2008, the Act on Collecting and Preserving Cultural Materials allowed the National Library to provide online materials published in Finland for the use of the general public. The National Library opened its Web Archive to the public in the spring of 2009.
- Henrik Grönroos ja Jussi Kurikka: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto entisaikaan ja nykypäivinä. Helsinki 1956.
- Esko Häkli: Bartholomeus Ghotan. Suomen ensimmäisen kirjan painaja. Helsinki 1991.
- Arne Jörgensen: Universitetsbiblioteket i Helsingfors 1827-1848. Helsingfors 1930.
- Matti Klinge et al.: Helsingin yliopisto 1940-1990, 1-3. Helsinki 1987, 1989, 1990.
- Kirja Suomessa. Helsinki 1988.
- The Librarians of the Royal Academy in Turku, the Imperial Alexander University of Finland, and the University of Helsinki. Exhibition catalogue. Ed. Kristina Nyman. Helsinki 1990.
- Holger Nohrström: Helsingfors universitetsbiblioteks Fennica-samling. Helsingfors 1918.
- Jorma Vallinkoski: The History of the University Library at Turku 1-2. Helsinki 1948, 1975.