Carolina Rediviva, Sweden – spiral staircases and a library on the top of the hill

Written by Library Planet editor Christian Lauersen, director of Libraries and Citizen Services in Roskilde Municipality, Denmark.

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On a hill rising majestic over Uppsala town there is a big building. It is not the city hall, it is not some old castle or church. It is Carolina Rediviva – a library. Carolina is the main building of Uppsala University Library and Uppsala itself is a university city with a very big U. Walking around in Uppsala it seems that almost every building is a part of the university in some way and there is libraries everywhere.

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Carolina Rediviva: A library on the top of the hill

Carolina was begun in 1820 and completed in 1841 and the original architect was Carl Fredrik Sundvall. Later on various additions has been added to the building. The name. which literally means “Carolina Revived”, was given in remembrance of the old Academia Carolina building, which had functioned as the university library for most of the 18th century. Carolina Rediviva is the oldest and largest university library building in Sweden and is also the site of treasures like Codex Argenteus and the Cancionero de Upsala.

Roughly Carolina as a physical library falls into two categories; A newer more or less up to date part and the old part. The newer part is a functional library with a friendly and professional atmosphere. Everywhere students are seated, working alone or in groups. The library is currently undergoing some refurbishment which naturally effects the overall pictures but good decisions has been made to make things work smoothly and the information about the refurbishment is very present.

The main reading hall is wonderful with huges colums and windows that brings a fantastic light into the room. Along the walls you find stalks of books. Taking the spiral stairs up to the upper gallery and you will have a superb view of greatness. Not even the slightly grumpy library employee who suddenly appeared out of a hidden door and shushed me and told me not to take pictures could destroy this spoil scenery.

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If the newer part of the library is fine the old part is absolutely breathtaking. First you walk through a wonderful room with beautiful books, old classy tables and chairs, huge globes and décor from different times. Though the room is rather small and dark I could just sit in that room and drink tea and read all day.

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On the other side of the room you find book heaven. Nothing less. Huge rooms and halls with massive wooden shelves containing thousands of old books. It’s like a fairytale. The sight, the smell, the atmosphere and you just fell instantly happy. Taking the very beautiful spiral staircase (I have a thing with spiral stairs) to the upper floor a new world reviles with wooden panels and shelves, round beautiful detailed windows to the outside and huge opening to the downstairs in the middle. Just magnificent.

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Walking among the huge shelves, smelling hundreds of years of wisdom, knowledge and thoughts coming from the books I thought to myself that something was missing to this library landscape; I was the only one there. Totally alone among the stalks. Turned out that I was in a closed part of the library, only being abel to enter because I was the guest to some great Uppsala library friends who has left me with access to library heaven in my quest for good library stories. I talked with them afterwards and the case is, that the collection of old valuable books is not be open to the public due to the risk of theft but students and researchers could request books from it to read at the reading hall. I totally understand this but what a shame to cut the public off from so many magical library rooms. I hope Uppsala University Library will one day remove the most valuable part of the collection to other facilities and unveil the greatness that those library halls consist.

Nethertheless, Carolina Rediviva is very much worth a visit when in Uppsala. It’s both an historical and modern library rapped in a beautiful building above the city.

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What else to see and do in Uppsala. It is a fine old city with many wonderful and cozy streets and buildings and a neat river running through it so take some walks around and enjoy the atmosphere. One evening I went to Williams which is a very nice pub with books, great lightning and acoustics, a strong range of beer and decent burgers.

Cheers

Christian

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