Uppsala University Library 400 years - anniversary exhibition

Uppsala University Library makes available books, articles, pictures, maps, manuscripts, archives and other media in physical and digital formats. The library also contributes to disseminating the University's research to a wider audience. The library has a long and illustrious history, and during 2020 and 2021, Uppsala University Library is celebrating its 400th anniversary. The anniversary exhibition highlights how its large and unique collections found their way to the library through requires legal deposit copies, donations and other means, and how the library's locations have changed over the past 400 years from damp facilities near Uppsala Cathedral to today's physical and digital environments.


Uppsala University Library was founded in the early 1620s by royal creeds that bequeathed an annual grant and a donation of books and manuscripts, largely consisting of what was left from Swedish abbey libraries from the Middle Ages.This took place in a period when the Swedish education system was expanding. The first gymnasia (secondary schools) had been established and Uppsala University was particularly favoured by the State. During the 17th century, central and local administration expanded in Sweden, and as it grew, the need for educated civil servants also grew. The University was equipped to meet this need, as well as to provide the Lutheran state church with ministers and to reflect the glory of the emerging superpower.

For hundreds of years, the University has worked with individual donators, and the collections' manuscripts, printed books, maps and pictures have largely come to the library through donations.

two sheets of parchment with handwritten text
Gustav II Adolf's decree from 7 July 1621 is on loan from Uppsala University Archives

Establishing the library

Gustav II Adolf's decree from 7 July 1621 states that a university library is to be established and that the king donates to the new library a collection of books. The library was also given a grant of 300 daler and the professors were encouraged to appoint a librarian and build a "large beautiful room" for the collections. The University had received a nearly identical phrased decree in 1620, but nothing had come of it.

two books from Riga, one covered in a reused manuscript fragment

From the first donations - books from the Jesuit College in Riga

Swedish armies systematically plundered libraries on the continent during the 17th century's many wars. It may seem offensive to us, but it was common practice at the time and in accordance with the era's law of war. During Gustav II Adolf's reign, Riga was besieged and captured in 1621 during the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629). The Jesuit College Library was confiscated and taken to Stockholm, and then sent on to the recently established Uppsala University Library, as a contribution to the growing collections. These books included not only Catholic works but also works within many different sciences and texts by authors from antiquity. Many of the books from Riga are bound in reused manuscript fragments from older texts. In addition to the books from Riga, the library also has received donations with books from confiscated libraries in Braniewo, Frombork, Prague, Poznan, Mainz, Würzburg and several other cities in Central Europe.

Two books from the Vadstena abbey, one is opened and shows two pages of handwritten text in latin

From the first donations - Vadstena Abbey library

Gustav II Adolf's donation included books confiscated by the crown from private individuals who had come into disfavour and book collections from Swedish abbeys and churches. This included a number of manuscripts and printed books from the Bridgettine Order in Vadstena, as seen in the picture.

In 1718, the library also purchased the Vadstena Diary, which records life in the abbey and its surroundings from the 14th century to the mid 16th century, The diary has been published many times since then and is often used by researchers.

two books, one with arabic text and the other with a crucifixion scene painted on the cover

Oriental and Church Slavonic literature

Through a large number of gifts, Uppsala University Library has received many early handwritten and printed texts in Church Slavonic and oriental languages, Some of these texts were given by oriental scholar and linguist Johan Gabriel Sparwenfeld (1655-1727), who purchased and collected books in many languages during his travels in Europe and Northern Africa. One manuscript with Arabic poems and texts by Ibn Nubatah was written in 1404 and purchased in Madrid, and one book, that contains the four gospels in Church Slavonic with a crucifixion scene painted in the cover, was likely purchased during Sparwenfeld's time in Moscow.

Red bookspines from the Gustavian collection

The Gustavian collection

While crown prince, Gustav III (1746–1792) was the chancellor of Uppsala University. Even after assuming the crown in 1771, he continued to show great interest in the University and he visited Uppsala regularly. The king was keen on attending lectures and defences of theses, and he seems to have had a special interest in the university library.

In 1788, prior to leaving for war in Russia, Gustav III gathered together his letters, manuscripts and many other documents. Everything was bequeathed in a will to Uppsala University Library, “in case during the war, which threatens the realm, I follow the same path as Gustaf Adolph and Charles XII took or should death take me.” The will had a reservation that the collection was to remain sealed and not be opened until 50 years after his death.

Gustav III was assassinated in 1792, and soon thereafter his papers were taken to Uppsala. In the presence of representatives from the afternoon daily Aftonbladet and other newspapers, the collection was opened on the anniversary of his death on 29 March 1842 and received considerable attention.

In addition to Gustav’s own writings, the Gustavian collection includes about 10,000 letters from sovereigns, leading cultural figures and diplomats from throughout Europe. This is a priceless collection for both Swedish and international 18th-century researchers.

Map of Nyköping with surroundings, around the city is a large circle

The first major map donation

From the 17th century, the university library's map collection grew through legal deposits, purchases and gifts. The library received a large number of maps in 1812 with the Gyllenborg donation, from which the map of Nyköping is taken. In accordance with the wishes of the count and business director Carl David Gyllenborg (1734-1811), his collection of about 500 maps, drawings and views were donated to the library after his death. The collection has about 400 hand drawn maps, of which around 80 are drawn by Gyllenborg himself, copied from originals.

The map of Nyköping was copied by Gyllenborg from a 1669 original by surveyor Anders Andersson. The circle shows the protected mile border established around the crown's castles and crown lands in connection with Charles X Gustav's reduction in 1655. Within this area, all land that was previously donated to others was reclaimed by the crown.

portrait of Emma Schenson on the left and a view of the rebuilt towers of the cathedral on the right

Photographs from Uppsala

Uppsala University Library's picture collection have a large number of photographs, which have come into the library's possession in various ways. These can be both complete collections and individual photographs.

Emma Schenson (1827-1913) worked as a photographer in Uppsala. In the 1860s, she opened her own studio at Kvarnfallet on Östra Ågatan. In addition to studio photography, she also photographed views in Uppsala. Schenson documented the reconstruction of the Uppsala Cathedral towers in 1889.

The collections also have photographs by other Uppsala photographers, including Heinrich Osti (1826-1914) Ellen Claeson (1877-1961) and Gunnar Sundgren (1901-1970).

manuscripts and music scores in bright green or marbled bindings

A music donation of dignity

Uppsala University Library has many musical scores from the Middle Age and forward, both handwritten and printed. In the exhibition, we see a selection of a collection donated by the diplomate and music lover Fredrik Samuel Silverstolpe (1769-1851), also known as "the Swedish Mozart". The donation also contains other musical scores and Silverstolpe's own notes from his travels and his time as a diplomat in Vienna and saint Petersburg. In Vienna, he met Mozart's widow Konstanze, who gave him the original notes by Mozart, which can be viewed in another part of the exhibition hall.

The music collection is used not only for research but often for concerts and musical recordings in Sweden and abroad.

portraits of Geijer, Segerstedt, Johannisson and Karin Boye

Archives of individuals

A considerable part of Uppsala University Library’s extensive handwritten collections consists of archives from individuals. The largest group of these are archives from the University’s professors and other researchers and total several hundreds. Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783–1847) was an intellectual and a professor of history. His letters and manuscripts came into the library’s possession in parts and pieces over time. Torgny T. Segerstedt (1908–1999) was a sociologist and served for many years as vice-chancellor of the University. His papers were bequeathed to the library in 2019. Historian of science and ideas Karin Johanisson (1944–2016) is among the well-known Uppsala professors in more recent years. Her archive was donated to the library in 2018.

There are also many archives that belonged to authors, ministers, composers, artists and other leading cultural figures. This includes Karin Boye’s (1900–1941) archive.

Purchases, legal deposits and exchanges

From its inception, the library was allocated funds for purchases. Once Swedish publications began streaming in as legal deposit, the library was able to focus its resources primarily on foreign texts.

In 1661, the Legal Deposit Act was passed. This ordered all printing companies in Sweden to submit copies of every printed document to the Swedish National Archives and the National Library of Sweden. By royal resolutions in 1692 and 1698, the universities in Uppsala and Lund were also given the right to receive legal deposits. A resolution, however, is only a strong recommendation. Both the act and the resolutions were badly followed initially. It was first in the mid 18th century that the legal deposits requirement began to function in earnest, and from that point Uppsala University Library has received copies of all Swedish publications. It was not until 1866, however, that a new legal deposit act mandated that legal deposits be sent to the National Library and Uppsala and Lund universities.

Exchanges between academies and universities began on a small scale at the end of the 17th century. Over time, Uppsala University Library built up an international network, where it would send copies of dissertations and books published by the University to institutions in other countries and it would receive their publications in exchange. Exchanges like this were a significant and important way of acquiring scholarly texts for the library well into the late 20th century.

two books by haffenreffer and four thin dissertations on his theology from the 1620s

Early purchases of texts for the University

The large donations that provided the foundation for the collections contained a large number of Catholic texts. The library needed to acquire contemporary Protestant texts that could be used for study at the University. An example of such a Protestant work is Compendium doctrinae coelestis by the German theologian Matthias Hafenreffer (1561–1619). A copy printed from 1612 contains a large number of notes from its readers. In 1620 and 1621, several dissertations were written at Uppsala University about Hafenreffer’s theology. This highlights the connection between the library’s holdings and the research that was conducted. Works by Hafenreffer continued to be used as course texts at universities and in secondary schools in Sweden into the 18th century.

two volumes with marbled book paper, and a drawing of the norse gods standing around Oden in the middle

The Palmskiöld Collection

Throughout his life, Elias Palmskiöld (1667–1719) collected publications, pictures, notes and copies from archives dealing with Sweden’s history and topography. Palmskiöld worked at the Swedish National Archives and, thanks to him, today we have copies of many documents that were lost in the Stockholm Palace fire in 1697. Palmskiöld was aided in his collecting by Uppsala University’s Library Director Erik Benzelius, who understood how valuable the collection was. In 1724, the University purchased the collection from Palmskiöld’s widow, but it would take 20 years before the work of organising the collection began in earnest, and another 40 years before it was completed. At the end of the 1780s, the collection was organised, catalogued, and bound in about 500 characteristic volumes with spines of parchment. The picture shows Oden, Tor and other norse gods, watercolour by P. Rudebeck from the Palmskiöld Collection.

a pile of brown leather halfbindings with sprinkled paper on the covers

The earliest Swedish publications

Since the Legal Deposit Act and subsequent resolutions were poorly followed in the mid 18th century, many of the oldest Swedish publications were long missing from Uppsala University Library. Several of these gaps in material were filled when Crown Prince Gustav donated the Cronstedt Collection to Uppsala University in 1767. Jacob Cronstedt af Fullerö (1668–1751) had collected early and rare books and manuscripts by Swedes or that dealt with Swedish history. Cronstedt had his books bound in standardised bound leather volumes that still characterise the collection. This collection has some early Swedish publications that are not found in any other public library in Sweden.

A handwritten list of titles and two volumes from that list

One of the earliest deliveries of legal deposits

Among the earliest preserved delivery lists of printed deposited material was submitted by the then academy book printer Henrik Keyser in Uppsala in 1692. The list indicates that he delivered some printed books, a large number of academic dissertations and even more personal verses, that is to say verses to individuals written for special occasions, such as for weddings or funerals. Two of listed works were Computus ecclesiastius by Anders Spole, a professor of mathematics, and the dissertation De ingenio humano by Johannes Olai Gene, under the professor of logic and poetry, Petrus Lagerlöf.

Comics are peaking out of a brown paper parcel  bound with string

A bit of everything...

Since the mid 18th century, the system of legal deposits has worked properly, and Sweden’s printing houses and publishers have submitted copies of all printed material. Through legal deposits, Uppsala University Library has received not just books and magazines within fiction and science, but also the country’s collected printed production in the form of advertising flyers and ephemera. This has filled the library with a rich collection of Swedish material.

Small calendars, comic strips and children’s shadow theatres are examples of what has come in through the legal deposit requirement. If no one has requested to see material before, it sometimes is still in the packaging in which it was sent to the library.

circus poster with acrobats on horse back

Swedish posters

Legal deposits have provided the library with a large number of posters. These are stored in the library’s picture collections. Posters are advertising or information notices and are designed to draw attention to a specific message. After the fact, they can serve as distinct and illustrative source material.

This poster is from 1838 for Circus Gautier. The circus had posters printed for their tour by local printers in the towns they passed through. This one came from Lundström’s printing house in Jönköping. The circus provided its own wood printing blocks for the illustrations. In the exhibition hall you can also see a high-quality, colourful lithographic poster with advertising for the Children’s Day celebration in Uppsala 1–3 September 1939, with a motif by the artist Lowe Björklund (1906–1953) and printed by Ivar Haeggströms litografiska.

Grey and brown volumes containing scientific dissertations

The University's exchange operations

Exchanges with other universities played a significant role in acquisitions until the end of the 20th century. Research from Uppsala University was spread through a focused exchange system with branches reaching the most distant universities. At the same time, the library received scholarly texts from large and small universities from around the world in very large numbers.

Examples of publications sent out from Uppsala University Library include the dissertation by mathematician Arne Beurling from 1933 and physicist Eva von Bahr-Bergius’s dissertation from 1908. Bahr-Bergius eventually became Sweden’s first female docent in physics. Exchanges provided dissertations like Nobel Laureate Marie Curie’s Recherches sur les substances radioactives, 1904, and Stephanie Wolicka’s Griechische Frauengestalten, 1875. Wolicka became the first women in Europe in modern times to receive a doctorate from a philosophy faculty, in her case from the university in Zurich.

A pile of modern books with soft covers

The University's own publications

In the early 1860s, the University’s own publications of scholarly literature were coordinated through the publication of Uppsala University’s yearbooks. One hundred years later, the now cumbersome yearbook was replaced by the Acta series. Since then, many independent series within different subject areas are published under the joint title Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis (AUU). Today, Uppsala University Library handles the normal distribution of the Acta publications and the regular publishing operations within AAU’s printed and digital series.

a row of Swedish modern books

Legal deposits now and in the future

The library saves the vast majority of what comes in through legal deposits, but since around 2000, it no longer saves all advertising flyers, calendars and ephemera. However, the National Library of Sweden and the University Library in Lund are still required to keep everything that has been delivered through the legal deposit requirement.

In 2012, a special Legal Deposit Act was added that requires all Swedish material published in digital form to be sent as a file to the Swedish National Library, known as legal e-deposit. The National Library saves these files in its digital archive and creates catalogue entries in the Libris national library database, where the material is searchable. Only material that is freely available (Open Access) and has a link in its catalogue entry can be read in full via Libris.

As such, there is quite a bit of material published digitally that is currently not available to Uppsala University Library users. This means the library no longer receives all Swedish publications through legal deposits, if they are not printed. It has yet to be determined how legal e-deposit will be used in the future.

Library environments - physical and digital rooms

From 1627, the University’s library was housed in badly suited rooms in a building beside Uppsala Cathedral. The rooms were damp and smelled bad and not at all appropriate for storing books. It was not until the 1690s that the library was moved to better-suited rooms in Gustavianum. The collections grew during the 17th century with spoils of war, donations and purchases. In 1686, upon the death of the University’s chancellor, Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, his private library, which was likely the largest in the country, went to the University Library. This addition to the collections was the immediate reason for arranging new and better library facilities in Gustavianum. It remained there until Carolina Rediviva was opened in the 1840s. Today, the library provides both digital and physical study and research environments in Carolina Rediviva and at facilities located at the University’s campuses.

plan of a building, also a plan of the front

The Old Library Building

Uppsala University Library’s oldest building was situated beside Uppsala Cathedral. The lower floor, in particular, suffered from moisture: “The books are so full of mildew and filth that no one can read the titles”. (Academic University Board report 5 July 1676.)

Daily work for the University’s librarians – often older professors – and their assistants was marked by problems with books that had vanished and lent books that were not returned. Attempts were made to limit access to the library, and rules from 1655 state that “anyone given access to the library to browse shall leave his uneducated associates outside.” (translated from Latin). Students were allowed to enter to read books on site.

pictures of Gustavianum from the front, and surrounded by the cathedral and the castle

Gustavianum and surroundings

In the 1690s, Uppsala University Library moved from the old library building to Gustavianum, here seen at the far left. The library remained here for 150 years in two large rooms that two were on the second floor. In 1702, Uppsala was devastated by a fire, which destroyed three quarters of the city. The University’s vice librarian, Johan Eenberg, described how Uppsala Cathedral burned next to Gustavianum. Embers from the collapsing cathedral towers fell onto the roof of Gustavianum, but were suddenly extinguished by a rain shower, which he interpreted as a sign from “the merciful God”. The rain shower saved the library’s oldest collections for later generations of students and researchers.

Interior of the book hall with men talking or reading books

Carolina Rediviva

At the end of the 18th century, the University Library had outgrown its facilities in Gustavianum. A new library building, Carolina Rediviva, was completed in 1841. The building was also used for parties and concerts, but after the new University Main Building was completed in 1880, the library took over the entire building.

This print shows what the library floor looked like before 1870. Because of the risk of fire, no lighting was provided in the library. All work had to take place in daylight, which naturally limited library hours.

The picture also reflects the fact that men were the ones that worked and borrowed books at the library at this time. It was first in the early 1870s that the first female students attended Uppsala University, and in 1899 Anna Lamberg (1877–1949) began working as a temporary assistant librarian at the University Library. At the time, she was the first woman to work at a large research library in Sweden.

collage of eleven library buildings, interiors and exteriors

Uppsala University Library today

The University Library is accessible digitally. Services like text searches, loans and help related to studies and research are largely provided online. The library’s physical facilities today are spread out across the University’s different campus areas, meaning they are located where users are, and they also provide study and researcher spaces. In May 2020, the newest facility opened, the Biology Library, at the Evolutionary Biology Centre (EBC).

The University Library offers different types of flexible and creative rooms where students and researchers can work with data processing and analysis: The Digital Library Lab at Ekonomikum, Spektrum at the Karin Boye Library, Ångström Visualisation Lab and Ångström Makerspace.

a red flower with pointy leaves and the logo fro database Alvin

Digitised cultural heritage and digital catalogues

Catalogues that were previously only searchable onsite at the library have been scanned and can be used through the library’s website. The University Library is also making increasing amounts of material available in digital form from the older collections. Much of the digitisation is being done in connection with orders from researchers around the world.

Users can access the digitised material through the Alvin database, a national cultural heritage platform operated and developed by Uppsala University Library in collaboration with the university libraries in Lund and Gothenburg. Several other libraries, archives, museums and research institutions are also members of Alvin and also make their material available. Information digitised in Alvin can be downloaded in high resolution formats and normally can be used freely.

the logo for database Diva, the name in a red star

Infrastructure for accessibility

Acta series and other texts published by Uppsala University are registered and are searchable in the national search portal DiVA – Academic Archive Online. DiVA is a digital publication system operated in collaboration among 49 higher education institutions, researching public agencies and museums. All of these register their publication of books and other material in the system. Each title in DiVA includes information of the publication and often with a link to a full text version. This system serves as a platform for open access. DiVA is administered by Uppsala University Library.

3D-model of Carolina Rediviva in white plastic in a display case

Carolina Rediviva created with a 3D printer in Ångström Makerspace spring 2019

This 3D print is a copy of a wooden and papier mâché model created in 1835. Calculations, 3D drawings and the printout were done by David Wiberg, a student on the Master Programme in Engineering Physics and an employee at Ångström Laboratory Makerspace in 2019. A total of 4 kilograms of plastic was used and the printing took 300 hours. The model is made of polylactide (PLA), which is a naturally decomposing thermo plastic resin that is normally made from corn starch or cane sugar.

bookshelves with scientific journals and to th right a bookladder

Print and digital access

A significant percentage of scholarly publications around the world are in digital form. Unfortunately, all these publications are not freely available through open access. Acquisition of digital texts often occurs through purchase of an entire package of digital access to titles or through subscriptions to large databases with journal articles. At the same time, large amounts of texts are still purchased in printed form.

In 2020, Uppsala University Library provides digital access to more than half a million books, over 26,000 electronic journals and close to 300 databases. This provides user access to texts, both printed and digital, in numbers that 17th century researchers and students could not even have dreamed about.


Project leaders and editors: Helena Backman and Johan Sjöberg
Photographers: Magnus Hjalmarsson and Lina Nääs
Graphic design: Camilla Eriksson and Petra Wåhlin Massali