National Library of Serbia

October 19, 2015

The National Library of Serbia was founded in 1832. It was heavily bombed in World War I, and was completely destroyed in World War II, where the majority of their rare and old book collection was lost. The library rebuilt, and opened at their current location in 1973.


Again there was so much that I learned at the National Library it would take too much time and space to write about it all.  Highlights at the National Library for me were the preservation room, the authors room, and the portrait of the one legged man and his story.  The preservation room had a very diverse and talented team.  It is amazing to learn and see the projects that they get to work on.   I really like the personal touch of the author room with their handwriting , furniture and their personal book collections.  The story of the portrait was captivating and I will forever remember the words “write and we speak and speak as we write”.



The National Library was a new experience for me.  It started off with a coat room, there just are not many coat rooms in the libraries I’ve been to at home.  The next thing that was new to me was the reading rooms.  I am used to a floor being quiet or small rooms where people can go to study, but these were large rooms with many people and everybody was studying.  It seems that many libraries at home are trying to get away from quiet space while Serbia is preserving the quiet space.  While these were both new to me, I enjoyed them.

My favorite part of the trip to the National Library was the preservation room downstairs.  I liked being able to see the different preservation techniques that are used and actually see some of them in use.  I thought it was interesting to learn that their services are contracted out for preserving books from other libraries, so those books come first.  Also, they cannot refuse to work on a book if it is past a certain age, I think the cut off year was 1868.  This is because that was the year modern Serbian language was officially adopted, so anything before that is valuable and needs to be saved.  Unfortunately, this means that a lot of their work they do is contracted out, for me though, this would be a dream to work with old and rare books and manuscripts.


The library was deliberately bombed by the Nazis in WWII, and although the entire collection was ready for evacuation to safekeeping, it wasn’t moved in time before the bombing. What was lost was the entire collection of books documenting Serbian life during the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. A few of these books had copies in libraries in Turkey, but otherwise the rest were lost forever. Additionally, they similarly had to move their collection for safekeeping in WWI, and quite a number of books were lost or stolen then. They still have a department in their library which is tasked with tracking down any of these lost books.
They do the conservation of their old and rare books there in the library, and all books older than 1874 must be sent to their conservation lab when any issues come up. As I plan to go into archives, it was very interesting to see their lab, I had not gotten to view any other conservation labs before. It was also interesting in that they are in the midst of digitizing their catalog. Right now, everything prior to 1974 is in the print catalog, everything after 1990 is in the digital catalog, and the years in between could be in either.

Ruins of the National Library of Serbia, bombed in WWII
Amanda Duke
Preservation lab at the National Library of Serbia



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