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Summer Internship at Icelandic Roots

Updated: Sep 7, 2019

By Þórdís Edda Guðjónsdóttir

In the summer of 2018 I had the privilege of working as an intern for Icelandic Roots to catalogue their library. This internship was credited towards my Master's Degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Iceland, not to mention the fun and the knowledge I gained while doing it.

Icelandic Roots is a five year old 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, located in Fargo, North-Dakota, USA. Their mission is to educate, preserve and promote Icelandic heritage by connecting cousins across the Atlantic Ocean and across the world. In these five years, a good number of books have been donated to the organization. Many of these books are written in Icelandic or they concentrate on Iceland or Icelandic matter. It is estimated that the amount of books and magazines at the Icelandic Roots Library is 3,500, but hard to tell for sure until they have all been catalogued.

For the cataloguing I used Microsoft Office Excel and divided one sheet into different columns where I wrote, for example, the name of the book, author and/or editor, publisher, year of publishing etc. I also added any additional interesting information about the book or magazine in one column. Each book was also given search words and a Dewey Decimal Classification number. The entries in the Excel sheet were in total 1,144. Few entries had multiple volumes of the same magazine so I estimate that in total I handled close to 1,600 books, magazines, maps, journals, letters etc. At the end of the summer, the catalogue was printed on A3 sized paper with a total of 140 pages.

Many interesting books are found in the Icelandic Roots Library, some very old and some new, some big and heave while others are small and thin. The oldest book printed in Icelandic language is the book Leiðarvísir til að lesa hið Nýa Testament með guðrækni og greind, einkum handa ólærðum lesurum (A Guide To Read The New Testament, Especially For Untrained Readers) published in 1822 in Copenhagen. The books published in 1821-1860 are in total 18, 85 books were published between 1861-1900 and 108 were published between 1901-1920. The youngest books were published in 2016, a volume of the magazine The Icelandic Connection and the book The travels of reverend Ólafur Egilsson: the story of the barbary corsair raid on Iceland in 1627 by Ólafur Egilsson. Some of the old books had the title page missing or the publishing year was not shown in the book, those are not included in the numbers above. The biggest and heaviest book is Guðbrandsbiblía, printed in the 1950´s as a reprint of Guðbrandur´s Bible from the late 1500´s. This book weighs 6.6 kg/14.5 pounds.

Edda holding Guðbrandsbilía. This bible weighs 6.6 kg / 14.5 lbs

The library consists of many different themed books, for example, Christianity books (Psalms, bibles, Christian studies and reading for children etc.), picture books, books on Iceland such as geography, geology, folklore, wildlife, botany etc., novels, short stories, folktales, poetry, genealogy and many more.

Most of the older books were religious books, such as psalms and bibles, but also a few novels. I am certain that some of these books came from Iceland with the settlers back in the late 1800's or early 1900´s. One particular book was a challenge to catalogue. It was in a bad shape, the title page was missing so no information on the book's title or publishing year could be found. After a while, with the help of a flashlight, I was able to barely read the title on the book´s end, Nýa testamenti og sálmar Davíðs (The New Testament and the Psalms of David). I was not able to find any other information on the book itself. However, the interesting part is that the owners´ names were written inside the book and by searching the Icelandic Roots Genealogy Database, I was able to find where they came from. I was very excited to see they emigrated from the county Dalasýsla, from farms I know well.

The book that was brought over with the settlers from Dalasýsla, Nýa testamenti og sálmar Davíðs

Another pleasant surprise for me was when I found two volumes of Bernskan (The Childhood) written by my great uncle, Sigurbjörn Sveinsson.

Bernskan, volume 1 and 2 by Sigurbjörn Sveinsson

Icelandic Roots is grateful for all the books that have been donated to the organization in the past five years. Most of the books that were catalogued this summer were donated by a librarian from Chicago, George Hanson. He had a good collection of books in Icelandic or that focused on Iceland or Icelandic matter. Icelandic Roots is honored to receive his wonderful collection and all his books are kept together as the George Hanson Icelandic Library.

As the library grows, more books need to be catalogued in addition to those who I could not finish this summer. Therefore it is my hope that I will get the opportunity to continue my work in the near future. I would like to thank the Icelandic Roots for this great opportunity for me to be their intern this summer.

This article was originally published by the Lögberg-Heimskringla newspaper. Click on the link to subscribe to the only Icelandic newspaper in North America.

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