National Bibliography Of Latvia

The main building of the National Library of Latvia in Riga

TypeNational library
Established29 August 1919 (98 years ago) (1919-08-29)
Location8 buildings in Riga, Latvia
Size4.1 million books and other publications
Other information
DirectorAndris Vilks

The National Library of Latvia also known as Gaismas Pils (Castle of Light) is a national cultural institution under the supervision of the Latvian Ministry of Culture. The National Library of Latvia was formed in 1919 after the independent Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in 1918. The first supervisor of the Library was Jānis Misiņš, a librarian and the founder of the Latvian scientific bibliography (1862–1945).

Today the Library plays an important role in the development of Latvia's information society, providing Internet access to residents and supporting research and lifelong education.


Interwar period[edit]

The National Library was founded on 29 August 1919, one year after independence, as the Valsts Bibliotēka (State Library).[1] Its first chief librarian and bibliographer was Jānis Misiņš (1862-1944) who made his immense private collection the basis of the new library.[2] Within a year, until 1920, the stocks had grown to 250,000 volumes.[3] Starting in the same year, all publishers were obliged to hand in a deposit copy of their works. Since 1927, the Library has published the National Bibliography of Latvia.

There were significant additions in 1939 and 1940, when the State Library took over many of the libraries and collections of the Baltic Germans, most of whom resettled to the Reich. Among these was a large part of the collection of the Society for History and Archaeology of Russia's Baltic Provinces, est. 1834, the primary historical society of the Baltic Germans.[1] In 1940, holdings encompassed 1.7 million volumes,[3] so that they had to be stored in two different locations in the Old Town (Jēkaba iela 6/8 and Anglikāņu iela 5).

German and Soviet occupation[edit]

During the German occupation of Riga (1941-1944), the State Library was renamed Zemes bibliotēka (Country Library, eliminating reference to a sovereign Latvian state). Under Soviet rule, it was known as Latvijas PSR Valsts bibliotēka (State Library of the Latvian SSR).[1] According to Soviet customs, in 1966 it received an honorary name, commemorating Vilis Lācis, a writer and the late prime minister of Soviet Latvia). Since 1946, literature deemed 'dangerous' from the Soviet perspective was withdrawn from the shelves and could be accessed only with a special permit until 1988.[4] In 1956, the State Library moved into its new building at Krišjāņa Barona iela.

Renewed independence[edit]

Since the reestablishment of national independence 1991, the institution is called Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka (National Library of Latvia). In 1995, it received as a permanent loan the Baltic Central Library of Otto Bong (1918-2006), a collection pertaining to the history, regional studies and languages of the Baltic countries.[5] In 2006, the National Library joined the European Library online service.


The Library's holdings today encompass more than 5 million titles, incl. about 18,000 manuscripts from the 14th century up to modern times.[6] One of the characteristic cornerstones of the NLL, which characterizes every national library, is the formation of the collection of national literature, its eternal storage and long-term access.

The NLL is a centre of theoretical research and practical analyses of the activities of Latvian libraries. The Library carries out the functions of the centre of Latvia Interlibrary Loan, ensures the library and information service to the Parliament of the Republic of Latvia – the Saeima, implements the standardisation of the branch. Since the very outset, its main concern has been the national bibliography. The massive union catalogue Seniespiedumi latviešu valodā (Ancient Prints in Latvian 1525-1855, published in Riga, 1999)[7] received the Spīdola Prize in 2000 and was awarded The Beautiful Book of the Year 99.[8] In 2005, the Letonikas grāmatu autoru rādītājs (1523-1919) (Index of the Authors of Lettonica Books (1523–1919)) was published,[9] providing information about versatile branches of science and representatives of various nations, Latvia being the main focus of their publications.

The NLL includes several collections of posters (artists Oskars Šteinbergs (1882–1937), Sigismunds Vidbergs (1890–1970), Raoul Dufy (1877–1953), Bernhard Borchert (1863–1945), Niklāvs Strunke (1894–1966) and others).[10]


Digitising collections at the NLL started in 1999. At present the Latvian National Digital Library Letonica, which was formed in 2006, holds digitized collections of newspapers, pictures, maps, books, sheet-music and audio recordings. In 2008 NLL launched two major digital projects. is the NLL's collection of digitized historical periodicals in Latvian with the possibility to read full texts and search page by page.[11] Latvia has a tradition of Song and Dance Festivals organized every four years. The historical materials from the first Song Festival in 1864 till the Latgale Song Festival in 1940 can be explored in another digital collection of the National Library of Latvia.[12]

New building[edit]

The first discussions about the need for a new National Library had already started in 1928, and the significance of the project of this century was further confirmed by the high-level international recognition. In 1999 almost all 170 UNESCO member states during its General Conference adopted a resolution,[13] calling the member states and the international community to ensure all possible support for the implementation of the NLL project. The continuous growth of the Library had made it necessary to transfer parts of the stocks into other buidlings. Thus, in 2013, NLL was distributed between five locations in Riga.[14] Furthermore, some stocks were being stored since 1998 in a depot in Silakrogs outside the capital.[4]

These inconveniences finally convinced the Parliament to approve a new building on the left bank of the Daugava. On 15 May 2008, after discussions lasting for many years, the state agency Three New Brothers and the Union of National Construction Companies signed the contract on the construction of the new National Library of Latvia. On 18 May 2014, the main facility of the Library at Krišjāņa Barona iela was closed for the move.[15] In 2008, construction started according to the design of the Latvian-American architect Gunnar Birkerts[16] who has been tasked with the project already in 1989.[17] The new building has 13 floors[18] and is 68 m high.[19] Construction costs were given as 193 million euros.[20] 480 people work there.

As part of Riga's programme for its title as European Capital of Culture, selected holdings were symbolically carried from the old to the new building by a human chain on 18 January 2014. The new building was finally opened on 29 August that year, the Library's 95th anniversary.[21]

Today the NLL building is a dominant landmark on the Riga cityscape. It is used for a variety of purposes, regularly used for conferences and conventions. Among others, it hosted the 4th summit of the EU's Eastern Partnership programme in May 2015,[22] and a debate chaired by the BBC's Jonathan Dimbleby on 14 March 2016.[23]

Current projects[edit]

  • LIBER 43rd Annual Conference
  • Development of the digital library services
  • Dissemination and Exploitation via Libraries: for Success and Sustainability of LLP Results
  • Effective training tools application to qualification improvement in library sector (ETQI)
  • Europeana Awareness
  • Europeana Inside
  • Europeana Newspapers
  • Europeana Sounds
  • The Exhibition "Book 1514–2014" and Academic readings "Content of the 21st Century"
  • The Impact of Digital text and Multimedia Format on Childhood Learning: a Multidimensional Approach

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 56°57′03″N24°07′15″E / 56.950882°N 24.120897°E / 56.950882; 24.120897

The historical main building, Krišjāņa Barona iela 14
  1. ^ abcKlöker, Martin (2004). "Bibliotheksgeschichtliche Einleitung". In Garber, Klaus. Handbuch des personalen Gelegenheitsschrifttums in europäischen Bibliotheken und Archiven. Vol. 7: Riga - Tallinn. Part 3: Riga (in German). Hildesheim: Olms. p. 41. ISBN 3-487-11405-4. 
  2. ^Zanders, Viesturs (1997). "Bibliotheken in Lettland". In Fabian, Bernhard. Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa. Eine Übersicht über Sammlungen in ausgewählten Bibliotheken. Bd. 7, Teil 2: Finnland, Estland, Lettland, Litauen (in German). Hildesheim: Olms. p. 145. ISBN 3-487-10361-3. 
  3. ^ abZanders, Viesturs (1997). "Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka – Lettische Nationalbibliothek". In Fabian, Bernhard. Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa. Eine Übersicht über Sammlungen in ausgewählten Bibliotheken. Bd. 7, Teil 2: Finnland, Estland, Lettland, Litauen. Hildesheim: Olms. p. 151. 
  4. ^ ab"LNB vēstures fakti" (in Latvian). Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  5. ^Zanders, Viesturs (1997). "Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka – Lettische Nationalbibliothek". In Fabian, Bernhard. Handbuch deutscher historischer Buchbestände in Europa. Eine Übersicht über Sammlungen in ausgewählten Bibliotheken. Bd. 7, Teil 2: Finnland, Estland, Lettland, Litauen. Hildesheim: Olms. p. 152. 
  6. ^Klöker, Martin (2004). "Bibliotheksgeschichtliche Einleitung". In Garber, Klaus. Handbuch des personalen Gelegenheitsschrifttums in europäischen Bibliotheken und Archiven. Vol. 7: Riga - Tallinn. Part 3: Riga (in German). Hildesheim: Olms. p. 42. ISBN 3-487-11405-4. 
  7. ^Šiško, Silvija, ed. (1999). Seniespiedumi latviešu valodā 1525–1855. Kopkatalogs / Die älteren Drucke in lettischer Sprache 1525–1855 (in Latvian and German). Riga: Latvijas Nacionālā Bibliotēka. ISBN 9984-607-19-4. 
  8. ^"About collection of NLL". Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  9. ^Bočarova, Rita, ed. (2005). Letonikas grāmatu autoru rādītājs (1523–1919) / Autoren-Verzeichnis der Lettonika-Bücher (in Latvian and German). Riga: Latvijas Nacionālā Bibliotēka. ISBN 9984-607-68-2. 
  10. ^"Treasures of the National Library of Latvia". Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  11. ^"Latvijas Nacionālā digitālā bibliotēka" (in Latvian). Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  12. ^"Latviešu Dziesmu svētki (1864–1940)" (in Latvian). Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  13. ^"Resolution 38 adopted at the 30th session of the UNESCO General Conference"(PDF). 
  14. ^"[Adresses of NLL's branches]" (in Latvian). Archived from the original on 19 May 2014. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  15. ^"[Press release]" (in Latvian). 15 May 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  16. ^Berndsen, Silke (2010). "'Gut zehn Jahre haben wir über unsere Bibliothek diskutiert, aber gebaut haben wir sie nicht.' Die lettische Nationalbibliothek und ihr Neubau". Bibliotheksdienst (in German). 44: 930–940. 
  17. ^"Architekt: Nationalbibliothek ist Symbol für freies Lettland" (in German). 14 Jan 2014. Retrieved 17 Jan 2014. 
  18. ^Brill, Klaus (2 Jan 2014). "Die singende Schöne. Riga putzt sich für seine Rolle als Kulturhauptstadt Europas 2014 heraus". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). 
  19. ^"National Library of Latvia". Retrieved 17 Jan 2014. 
  20. ^"Jaunumi". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 17 Jan 2014. 
  21. ^"Jaunā LNB ēka" (in Latvian). Retrieved 3 Jan 2015. 
  22. ^Brössler, Daniel (21 May 2015). "Geschichte schrreiben. Beim Gipfel in Riga wollen die Staats- und Regierungschefs der EU unter Beweis stellen, dass ihre Ostpolitik nicht gescheitert ist". Süddeutsche Zeitung (in German). p. 7. 
  23. ^BBC World Service report, 14 March 2016

Publishing and Bibliography in Latvia

The history of printing in Latvian can be traced back to the 16th century, with the appearance of a multi-lingual German Mass in 1525 and the establishment of Riga’s first printing shop in 1588. Until the 18th century, the majority of texts in Latvian were religious in nature; however, that started to change with the publication of the first Latvian journal in 1797. Latvian printing really took off in the 19th century, with the publication of as many as 200 titles in Latvian per year by the 1880s (Riekstinš, J.V., 1977).

In many ways, the history of Latvian bibliography mirrors the history of Latvian publishing. Although official works of national bibliography did not appear until the first half of the twentieth century, Latvian bibliography can be traced back to the late 1700s. The first bibliographic materials to appear in Latvia were occasional lists of newly published books. These were followed by attempts at retrospective bibliographies of Latvian books compiled by private individuals. By the second half of the 19th century, commercial bibliographies compiled by publishers and booksellers became commonplace. Commercial bibliographies were soon followed by more comprehensive lists of all Latvian books registered with the government. The period of Latvian independence, from 1920 to 1940, saw the Riga State Library become the chief producer of Latvian national bibliography, as well as the publication of several important works of retrospective bibliography (Pilch, 2002).

After the incorporation of Latvia into the Soviet Union, in 1940, the Latvian Bibliographic Institute took over the production of national bibliography with its monthly publication, Latvijas PSR preses hronika (Pilch, 2002). Bibliographic projects were tasked with keeping up with the enormous growth of publications in Latvia. For example, in 1940, 392 books, 21 newspapers, and 35 journals were published in Latvian. By 1972, that number had grown to 2,591 books, 114 journals, and 78 newspapers (Riekstinš, J.V., 1997). The Latvian Bibliographic Institute continued to publish their bibliography, renamed the Latvijas preses hronika, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989. In 1993, the Latvian Bibliographic Institute was absorbed by the National Library of Latvia (Pilch, 2002). The mission of the national library is broad in scope. However, the production of national bibliography is identified as the library’s “main concern.” After 2006, the bibliographic activities of the National Library transitioned from print to electronic format. Current and retrospective bibliographic information is available through its electronic database of monographs and serial publications (National Library of Latvia, 2014).


  • Pilch, J. (2002). Baltic National Bibliography. Slavic & Eastern European Information Resources, vol. 2 (2-4), 51-94. DOI: 10.1300/J167v02n03_05.
  • Riekstinš, J.V. (1997). Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic: Press, radio and television. In Great Soviet Encyclopedia. (vol. 14, p. 282). (New York and London: Macmillan, 1977). 
  • National Library of Latvia (2014). About the Library. Retrieved from

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Library Catalogs

Electronic Union Catalog of Latvian Libraries of National Significance

This electronic catalog contains some 700,000 records reflecting the holdings of ten major research libraries in Latvia, including the National Library of Latvia, the Library of the University of Latvia, the Scientific Library of the Riga Technical University, the Fundamental Library of the Latvian University of Agriculture, the Library of Riga Stradins University, the Library of the Latvian Academy of Culture, the Library of the Economic and Culture Higher School, the Academic Library of the University of Latvia, the Library of Latvian Maritime academy, the Library of Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration, and the Library of Riga Graduate School of Law. The catalog interface is available in both Latvian and English and the advanced search screen gives you many options for defining your search. When possible, perform subject searches in Latvian and known item searches in the language of publication.

Electronic Catalog of the National Library of Latvia

This electronic catalog includes descriptions of items held by the Latvian National Library. Electronic records are available for all items, regardless of year of publication, added to the collection since 1990 (Latvian), 1996 (Foreign Language), or 2000 (Russian). The catalog is updated regularly with records for the most-often requested materials in the library, but is not comprehensive for materials obtained prior to 1990. Users interested in these materials may refer to the scanned card catalogs available on the Latvian National Library website. The search interface and catalog records are identical to the Union Catalog (described above).

Katalog literatury na Latyshskom yazyke

Moscow: Russian National Library, Department of National Literatures
UIUC Call Number: International & Area Studies Microforms, MFICHE 016.94796 R736k; reference fiche and circulating copy available

This scanned card catalog represents the Latvian holdings of the Russian National Library until roughly 1998. The catalog is made up of 137 microfiche reflecting roughly 79, 460 items arranged alphabetically by author. You can see a sample of several entries from the catalog below. Please be advised that the quality of some of the scans is poor.


Scanned Card Catalogs at the National Library of Latvia

The National Library of Latvia has made available several scanned card catalogs reflecting their foreign language holdings. Separate catalogs are available for English, German, Russian, and French books with an additional catalog for materials in other languages. Also available are scanned catalogs of sheet music and Latvian historical place names. These catalogs provide coverage until 2000, after which time entries become available through the electronic catalog. Below is an example of the interface and one of the cards from the German-language catalog. 

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Contemporary National Bibliography

National Bibliography Database of Monographs and Serial Publications

Riga: Latvijas Nacionala Bibloteka

Online resource 

This database is the electronic version of the Latvian National Bibliography (Latvijas preses hronika and its predecessors). It contains information about all books published in Latvia from 1585 to the present. Since 1940, it includes descriptions of books about Latvia and Latvians published outside of the country and, since 2000, descriptions of serial publications. Starting in 2006, the database includes information about preprints and entries from 2009 to present include supplemental information, such as cover images and tables of contents.

Latvijas preses hronika.

Riga: Latvijas Nacionala Biblioteka, 1990-2006
UIUC Call Number: Main Stacks 015.4796 L358. 

This series continues the Soviet period bibliography Latvijas PSR preses hronika. Like its predecessor this series is divided into one subseries on books, music and videos and a second on periodicals and reviews. The issues are organized by subject classification and each includes an author, title and ISBN index. The national bibliography includes cyrillic publications as well as those in latin characters. As one would expect, even the smallest publications are included here.

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Retrospective National Bibliography

Latvijas Nacionala biblioteka.Seniespiedumi Latviesu valoda 1525-1855. Kopkatalogs.

Riga: Latvijas Nacionala biblioteka. 1999.

UIUC Call Number: International & Area Studies--Baltic Reference Q. 015.4796 Se571

This excellent bibliography is the collaborative work of scholars at the Latvian National Library, the Latvian Academy Library, the Latvian University Library and the Central State Library of Liepaja. The catalog is intended as a comprehensive listing of Latvian publications issued from 1525-1855.

As can be seen from the record above, the title is given in Fraktur and in modern Latvian with complete information including the date of censorship. It may be interesting to compare this entry with that found in Misins (shown below). The entries also include references to bibliographic entries in other sources for the same title. Thus the "M. I 2398" in the record refers to Misins, volume I, entry no. 2398. Similar entries can be found for such sources as Napiersky's Chronologischer Conspect der Lettischen Literatur, Estreicher's Bibliografia polska and many other sources. The bibliographies consulted are listed in the opening pages of the volume.

In general, the bibliography is arranged chronologically. There are several indexes to facilitate access: title, subject, personal or organizational name, publisher and geographic. The volume concludes with some 60 pages of illustrations adding to the wealth of bibliographic data available from this resource. 

Latviesu Rakstniecibas Raditajas.

 Riga, 1924
UIUC Call Number: History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library FILM 016.89193 M68L

Latviesu Rakstniecibas Raditajs.

Misins, Janis, Riga: Latvijas Akademiska Biblioteka, 1998, v.1-2.
UIUC Call Number: International & Area Studies--Baltic Reference 016.94796 M687l

Misins 1924 publication is considered by many to be the first serious attempt at retrospective national bibliography for Latvia. The original catalog has recently been expanded by a two volume supplement covering the years 1585-1919. Misins original two volume work covered the years 1585 to 1925. As tremendous a work as this was, it was based on Misins personal library and, thus, could not be comprehensive. Nevertheless, it is an enormous accomplishment.

The entry above is typical of the information found in the catalog. The catalog is arranged by subject and includes an author and title index for each of the original volumes. While Misins intended to publish a third and fourth volume to his bibliography that would have included periodical titles, the work was never completed.

The recently published supplementary volumes extend Misnis original work by adding legally and illegally published titles, as well as ephemera of 5 pages or more. These include the publications of societies, government regulations, bookdealers catalogs and pricelists. Books in the Latgallian dialect which were omitted from Misnis original work have been included here. The arrangement in the supplement is somewhat different than that found in the original. Entries here are arranged alphabetically by author. The compilers have also included titles identified in the Helsinki University Library catalog of Lettonian collections.

Valsts bibliotekas biletens; latvijas bibliografijas zurnals

Riga:Valsts bibliotekas, 1927-1944.

UIUC Call Number: Main stacks 015.474 R449V, 1927-1941.

This was independent Latvia's first bibliography. Serially published, the bibliography was a list of new publications issued in Latvian territory, regardless of language, arranged in a classified list. A systematic index was published annually of authors and headings. As can be seen from the entry shown above the individual titles were fully described with all series information included. The bibliography included ephemera with records in the list for items of only a few pages. There were even listings for concert programs.

Preses hronika. Riga. 1949-1956

UIUC does not hold this title

Available at the National Library of Latvia. Record number: 000376513

This was a quarterly publication issued during the Soviet period. The publication is described by Pilch (SEEIR, 2001:2(3/4)) as "listing books, music, printed graphics and periodicals."(pp.75-76) The title is not held at the University of Illinois and thus could not be examined de visu.

Latvijas PSR preses hronika. Riga. 1957-1989

UIUC does not hold this title

Available via WorldCat. OCLC Accession Number: 24168353

This title continued the Preses hronika cited above. This later title was issued monthly and listed books, music, graphics and periodical publications.

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