29 May 2017

Copenhagen, Royal Library

The Royal Library (Kongelige Bibliotek) of Denmark may not have one of the largest nor of the most famous collections of medieval manuscripts, but nevertheless houses quite a few interesting items, many of which are digitised and available online. The current Royal Library is the result of multiple mergers, and today functions both as a national library and a university library. As usual for university library systems it has multiple sites, but to the best of my knowledge all special collections and manuscript materials (except for the Danish part of the Arnamagnæan Collection) are held at its main site, which is the only one I will discuss here. The Arnamagnæan Collection, which consists almost exclusively of Icelandic and Scandinavian manuscripts (and thus is probably of limited interest to readers of Littera Carolina), is instead in the library of the Department of Nordic Research of the University of Copenhagen, but since I have not visited it I am unable to provide information about it here.

Basic practicalities and getting there

Most library employees, and in fact most people in Copenhagen, speak pretty good English. Denmark uses its own currency, the krone, but virtually all shops I visited in the city centre (including subway ticket machines) accept credit/debit cards, so it is possible to make a short trip without having to change any money. Denmark has its own power socket type (type K), rated at 230 V AC; this socket also accepts unearthed plugs of the French (type E), German (type F, aka Schuko), and Europlug type. (Note that you can also insert earthed plugs into it, but in that case the appliance will not be grounded! Which is obviously a serious electrical hazard to both you and your laptop/phone/pad…)

The main library site is on the small island of Slotsholmen, which is the political and historical centre of the city, where the Royal Palace, Parliament, and Supreme Court are located. The central train station is 1.5 km away (20 minutes’ walk), while the subway stops of Kongens Nytorv and Christianshavn are less than 1 km away (10-15 minutes’ walk). The subway reaches the airport, so, depending on where you are coming from, making a day trip to the library may be rather easy, landing at the airport in the morning and leaving in the evening.

The main library complex was given a radical revamp in 1999 with the addition of a new stylish granite and glass building called the Black Diamond (den Sorte Diamant). This effectively turned the library into a multi-purpose building, which houses a number of cultural venues: in addition to the main site of the Royal Library itself, there is also a concert/conference hall, two museums, a restaurant, and the usual café and gift shop. The main hall and common areas are open to the public, and a library card is only needed to access the reading rooms.

Ordering manuscripts

All manuscripts and most books and journals must be requested at least 2-3 days in advance of a visit. Please note that this also applies to printed books and journals, so if you plan to collate a manuscript against an edition, for example, you should also remember to order the edition! A handy guide on how to request manuscripts (the procedure is pretty much the same for printed items) is available on the library’s website. You will need to bring your passport on your first visit (in theory EU/EEA ID cards should also be accepted, but the staff prefers passports). It is advisable to carry a written reference from your institution (if you have one), as it may be requested at the staff’s discretion, although I was not asked for one (I suppose this might be more likely to happen when requesting precious items).

I wrote to the library in advance of my visit, to make sure the manuscripts I wished to see were accessible at the time of my planned visit (i.e. not undergoing restoration, on loan for an exhibition, or the like). The library staff was exceptionally helpful both in email exchanges (especially Dr Erik Petersen who is, as far as I understand, the library’s expert on western medieval manuscripts), and during my visit.

When searching/ordering manuscripts through the online catalogue, one should keep in mind a couple of quirks. First, if the catalogue suddenly and inexplicably switches to Danish, you can switch back to English by hovering the mouse or clicking on the top-right corner of the page (a menu should appear). The online catalogue cannot handle the character “°”; therefore, shelfmark parts indicating codex sizes such as “2°”, “4°”, and “8°” have been replaced with the Danish “folio”, “kvart”, and “oktav” (rather than the Latin/international “folio”, “quarto”, “octavo”). Finally, the collection names for Gammel Kongelig Samling (aka G. Kgl. Saml.) and Ny Kongelig Samling (aka Ny Kgl. Saml.) have now been standardised to just “GKS” and “NKS” respectively.

Within the library

The entrance to the library is on the west side of the Black Diamond (you can also enter through the café, which opens on the waterfront); the monumental entrance of the adjacent old Library building is now permanently closed (a pity, as it looks quite nice). If you enter from the west side, you’ll find an info point/gift shop right in front of you, and a long row of coin-operated lockers on your left. You will most likely need to use the lockers as no bags or coats are allowed in the reading rooms; transparent plastic bags are allowed, and are sold at the gift shop. The lockers take 10 Kroner coins as deposit, but I suppose that any coin or token roughly the same size (such as 1 Euro) will still trigger the mechanism (the coin is returned when the locker is opened). I am not sure whether lockers large enough to take suitcases are available; it might be wise to ask in advance if you plan to come straight from (or go straight to) the airport/station. Since apparently there are no toilets near the Research Reading Room (!), it might be a good idea to use the ones next to the lockers before going upstairs.

Special collection materials (including manuscripts) can only be accessed in the Research Reading Room, which is a reserved area within the West Reading Room (Læsesal Vest), on the first floor (“level C”) of the Black Diamond. To get there from the locker area, walk around the info point and into the main atrium, and take the moving walkway climbing to the first floor. As you step off the moving walkway, Reading Room West is behind you, on the left: turn left, and left again into the open corridor overlooking the atrium; the entrance to the Reading Room is a glass door on the right (a picture of the entrance is available on Wikimedia Commons).

In the Reading Room West, you will be issued a reader card (you’ll need to fill in a form, have a picture taken, and present your passport). After this, you will be able to access the manuscripts you reserved!

Wi-fi is available throughout the building; it also supports Eduroam (if you have an Eduroam account). Unfortunately, some reference works related to manuscripts (including a rather large collection of manuscript catalogues of European libraries) are located in another reading room on a different floor, in the Centre for Manuscripts and Rare Books – although some of these are currently in the process of being moved (as of May 2017). In any case, you can take them from the shelf in the Centre for Manuscripts and Rare Books and bring them in the Research Reading Room. A brief introduction to the different manuscript collections, as well as facsimiles of the old (printed) manuscript catalogues are in any case available from the library’s website.

As a final side note, the library complex (both the Black Diamond and the older library building to which the Black Diamond is connected) is rather nice architecture, listed in many city guides, and in my opinion well worth a visit in itself. So if you need a break from working on manuscripts, it might be worth having a look around, including what exhibitions might be held at the time.

By Alessandro Gnasso.

Do you have any questions or additions to make to this blog post, based on your own experience? Have you recently used a research library and think you might like to write a post for us? Get in touch with us by email or via Twitter.

Copenhagen, Royal Library
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