The National Library's Norwegian-American Collection
Both the idea behind the Norwegian-American Collection and its realization are the result of cooperative efforts by many individuals on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. .
On February 1, 1923, an article appeared in the Norwegian-American newspaper Nordisk Tidende by Professor Gisle Bothne that was critical of the University Library in Oslo. Bothne said the library was not fulfilling its function as a national library in that it was not showing enough interest in Norwegian-American literature. The article concluded: "Here in America, interest in Norwegian immigration history has been growing significantly in recent years, and truly valuable contributions have been made in this area by Professor Theodore C. Blegen. It would be of great benefit if someone like Blegen, who has the know-how to uncover valuable historical information in the Norwegian archives, were to be sent to Norway to carry on this work before we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Norwegian immigration in 1925. If a Norwegian-American branch were to be started in Kristiania [now Oslo] in the very near future, it could provide him with many types of assistance in carrying out this work."
About the same time as Bothne's article appeared, the library in Oslo applied to the Storting [the Norwegian Parliament] for money to purchase a sizeable amount of Norwegian-American material. A committee of the Storting responded with this statement: "Considering the important repercussions emigration has had, not only for the country as a whole, but also for local communities and almost all families, and considering the many strong bonds that join the emigrants to the Old Country, it is natural and a national necessity that there be the fullest possible representation of Norwegian-American books, periodicals, and newspapers in the archives of our national library. . ."
These fine words, included in the annual report of the library for 1921/22, had little effect, however, and an application made the following year for $1,500 to send a librarian to the United States for study and NOK 6,000 toward the purchase of Norwegian-American literature, was rejected even though the committee emphasized strongly that the plan be carried out without delay, especially since the 100th anniversary of Norwegian emigration would be observed in 1925.
The annual reports that followed reveal that little was being done. Local community (bygdelag) publications and eight Norwegian-American newspapers were subscribed to. In two years time the number of accessions in the Norwegian-American catalog numbered only 250.
In September 1926, it was possible at last to send librarian Thor M. Andersen to America for the purpose of registering Norwegian-American literature, thanks to a scholarship from the Norway-America Fund. His work resulted in the addition of 490 volumes and extensive bibliographical material.
In 1946, Thor M. Andersen was appointed head librarian of Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskabs bibliotek [Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters Library in Trondheim], but this did not dissuade him from his intention to publish his extensive bibliography. Thanks to contacts established with Norwegian-American institutions and private individuals, many current Norwegian-American books were added to the University Library. However, the acquisition of a complete collection of this literature was far from certain, and there was a danger that some of the material would no longer be available.
It was therefore very welcome news when, in 1951, a number of prominent Americans made a public appeal for the ingathering of Norwegian-American literature, primarily local community (bygdelag) publications. Thorgeir Siqveland, Norwegian Consul General in Minneapolis from 1946 to 1962, was the driving force behind the committee and led its practical work in an energetic and effective manner. Right up until his death in 1974, Siqveland was keenly interested in the collection, and involved many of his connections in this project.
Another committee was formed in 1958, namely, the Norwegian-American Literature Committee, led by Dr. Alf M. Eikaas. This committee also worked energetically for the same goals, often with the help of their connections.
A great number of packing crates eventually found their way across the ocean, from various sources, all with the same destination: the Norwegian-American Collection, officially established in 1958. Some older Norwegian-American literature still remains in other parts of the library, but in due time this will all be transferred to the Norwegian-American Collection. All the material is, however, duly registered in a card catalog, arranged alphabetically as well as according to an in-house classification system.
Thus, the collection houses literature that sheds light on the overall history of the Norwegian emigrants, including information about their settlements, their religious and social life, biographical accounts and family and local histories.
In the beginning, only books published by Norwegian-American authors in America were included, but articles in periodicals, newspapers, and also literature published in Norway about emigration, have been registered in recent years.
We still lack a great deal of material such as books, periodicals and, not least, Norwegian-American newspapers. We hope that winds will also blow our way across the Atlantic Ocean following the anniversary so we will not have to wait for a third anniversary to create new enthusiasm for this venture.
The bibliography at hand is by no means a complete list of Norwegian-American literature. It is restricted to the material that exists in our Norwegian-American catalog and then only to selected parts of it. And, as mentioned above, there has not been time to go through all the periodicals and yearbooks (annual periodicals) in the library. All the same, the library wished to make this contribution toward the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Norwegian emigration. Contributors may be pleased to observe that we have worked on the material to the best of our ability in a time of limited resources, with growing demands from all sides.
We would like to thank University Librarian Johanna Barstad for her work in editing the bibliography. There are still rich resources to draw from. The project will not be completed for quite some time to come. It is both a pleasure and a duty for us to recognize this fact during this anniversary year for Norwegian emigration to America.