The Bernadotte Library, Stockholm

The other day I got the opportunity to participate in a view of the Bernadotte library at the castle here in Stockholm. The library is located in the castle’s northern wing and is the Bernardotte’s private library for the royal book collections. There are about one hundred thousand  books belonging to the kings and their queens. In addition, the Bernadotte photo collections consist of half a million photographs and also an invaluable music archive.

The room is very impressive as four castle architects during a hundred years of construction set their mark on the large and magnificent space. The library was completed in 1796 and was originally built to be the Swedish national library. Once it was built, the National Library believed that the premises would last for 200 years. However, after 20 years, it was too small and that forced to put loose bookshelves across the middle of the room. The present Royal Library in Humlegården, Stockhoolm, was opened in 1877, and criticism was then given that the library was located to far out of central Stockholm. The author August Strindberg began as a amanuensis at the library, then located in the castle. That was where he had to learn the special ”library handwriting”, required to make entries on catalog cards and other notes. Almost everyone in the library wrote with the same writing style and this is the origin of Strindberg’s somewhat special handwriting, which he kept his entire life. At the relocation of the library in 1877, the 75 kg heavy Devil´s Bible (Djävulsbibeln) was drawn on a sledge from the castle to the library´s new premises in Humlegården, Stockholm. The whole transport was supervised personally by the head of the Royal Iibrary, Gustaf Edvard Klemming.

Before the move to Humlegården, ”all Swedish literature” was kept at the castle, which of course was not true. The room was not heated,l but there could be very cold in the winter time There were therefore pairs of ”service gowns” used when someone would try to search for some books during the cold and dark seasons. There was no light on the premises due to fire risk and of course, electrical lighting was not available. This meant that it was virtually impossible to find any books during the dark winter season.

In the library there are the various books of the king set in chronological order starting with Carl XIV Johan and through Gustav VI Adolf. Even the queen’s book collections are arranged in connection with each king. Some other smaller collections are also featured in the library, including Prince Bertil’s collections. The library is largely full, but there are probably no big difficulties to include the present King’s books. In the shelves you can find out what the kings and queens have read over the years. Much is obviously unread, but some of the queens read  mainly romantic novels or detective novels as it used to be. The rumour says that the king Gustav VI Adolf only read two novels throughout his whole life, one of which was unusually long. But he was very well educated and had tremendous knowledge in history and archeology.

At the library there are only two in the staff and they also work with the owner’s private archives as well as photographs and so on.  The British Royal Library has 37 employees. The Bernadotte library can truly be called a ”library museum”. There are only two such libraries in the Sweden, the other is located in the city of Borås.

Today, the library room is also used quite often for different seminars and gatherings of academic nature. The framing with nearly 100,000 books is then really magnificent.

Om Arwidson

Advokat bosatt och verksam i Stockholm
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