Celebrating Swedish bibliotek for National Library Week Posted by on Apr 9, 2021 in Culture, Travel & Geography

Photo: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

It’s National Library Week in the U.S. so this post is dedicated to the Swedish bibliotek! We’ll begin by reviewing some helpful nouns and verbs for visiting the library, discover how public libraries work in Sweden, and highlight Kungliga biblioteket, the National Library of Sweden. If you’re expecting a demure post this week because of our topic, think again! Swedish libraries have a fascinating history, including some juicy drama. Plus, they serve as education centers and gathering places, and play a vital role in driving change and progress in the modern era. So buckle up bokmalar, we’re heading to the library!

 ett bibliotek.  la bibliothèque. βιβλιοθήκη

The Swedish noun for library is bibliotek, loaned from the French bibliothèque, originally from Ancient Greek, no surprise there. Here are the declinations of the Swedish noun:

ett bibliotek → biblioteket → bibliotek → biblioteken
a library           →   the library    → libraries     → the libraries

You can use this noun to create compound words. Use bibliotek first, as with these terms:

en bibliotekshylla       a library shelf
ett bibliotekslån          a library loan
en biblioteksbok          a library book

Bibliotek can also be added as the second half of a compound word. Like this:

ett skolbibliotek           a school library
ett stadsbibliotek         a city library
ett privatbibliotek       a private library

If you need assistance locating a resource, ask one of these helpful people:

en bibliotekarie       a librarian
→ bibliotekarien → bibliotekarier → bibliotekarierna

The verb for lending or borrowing items from the library is att låna.

lånar → lånade → har lånat

Public Libraries in Sweden

Sweden has around 2,200 publicly funded libraries. According to, even in the digital age, Swedes make around 80 million physical visits to libraries each year. Kungliga biblioteket, the National Library of Sweden, serves as the institution that manages all Swedish public libraries. Getting a library card in Sweden is free but requires a Swedish personnummer and typically Swedish residence, so it can be a little tricky to access online collections from abroad.

5 Facts about Kungliga biblioteket – The National Library of Sweden

  1. Kungliga biblioteket (KB) translates to the “Royal Library” as its roots go back to the personal collection of King Gustav Vasa in the 1500s. KB was formalized later in 1661 when an act was passed requiring every book published in Sweden to submit an additional copy to the library. The intent was not to begin documenting all the Swedish literature of the time, but rather to censor print material from its citizens.
  2. KB houses the 800-year-old Devil’s Bible or Codex Gigas. Originally stolen from a Bohemian monastery, this medieval mammoth document weighs 75kg, containing the Old and New Testament, historical texts, a calendar, magic formulas, and even a portrait of Satan. Watch a 15-minute film about it in Swedish here.
  3. In 2004, it was discovered that KB staff member and historian Anders Burius had stolen and sold 62 valuable titles from the library’s collection. He sold them to rare book dealers and private buyers abroad.  Only 7 of the 62 titles have been recovered today. Gustaf Skarsgård plays the lead role in the 2011 miniseries Bibliotekstjuven based on this story.
  4. The first National Library was housed in the royal palace Tre kronor. The collection spanned the reign of several kings and included national manuscripts, maps, and foreign language books. A fire in 1697 destroyed 17,286 bound volumes and 1,103 manuscripts. The library was moved to its permanent residence in Humlegården in 1877. Electricity was installed some years later, but the building was not fully electrified until 1964.
  5. Today, Kungliga bibliotek seeks to be an authority for independent research. From their website:

    “We do not evaluate or screen the material we collect. Everything is saved as it is, regardless of form or content. Thereby, we support and stimulate independent research, for today and future generations. Our mission is ultimately to aid democracy, equality and the freedom to form one’s own opinion.”

Let’s hear it for the library, eh? Raise your hand in the comments below if you have a card at your local library!

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About the Author: Chelsea B

Chelsea is a Swedish language instructor and translator living in Minnesota, U.S. She has a degree in Scandinavian Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and has experience living and working in Sweden from north to south! In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, listening to music, and practicing slöjd, the Swedish word for handcraft.

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