Looted Library, Reconstructed Library

Reconstructed library

Library room with multiple bookshelves carrying old books, most likely manuscripts or early prints.

In 1622, having been taken away from Riga and ending up in Uppsala, the collection of the former Riga Jesuit Library became part of the only university library in Sweden. In the course of the 17th century, other books looted from Catholic institutions in Prussia and Poland were also incorporated into the collection of the university library. Boundaries between individual collections disappeared and books, irrespective of their origin, became part of the larger collection. The Uppsala University Library used to sell and exchange books, getting rid of duplicate copies and books that seemed useless.

The first researcher to pay attention to the former collection of Riga Jesuit College was Swedish librarian and bibliographer Isak Collijn (1875-1949). Collijn had studied at Uppsala University, where he subsequently worked as a lecturer and librarian. In 1910, he became the director of the Uppsala University Library. From 1914 to 1940, Collijn headed the Royal Library of Sweden as the state’s chief librarian.

Portrait of Isak Collijn

While working at the Uppsala University Library (1905-1914), Collijn launched the reconstruction of Riga Jesuit College Library (1583-1621). Before the First World War, his research findings found their way into scholarly circulation. Based on the list of books and items taken away from Riga, compiled by chaplain to the King of Sweden Johannes Bothvidi after 1622, Collijn identified copies of books that had probably come from Riga in the Uppsala University Library and other Swedish book depositories. He created a card index, in which he registered the books listed by Bothvidi. Collijn marked the books that he thought related to the library of Riga Jesuit College with a star, preserving the same order of books as in Bothvidi’s list.

Below: Card index of the former Riga Jesuit college library created by Isak Collijn

Card index with a handwritten text

Below: Isak Collijn’s letter to Riga City librarian Nicolaus Busch about the possible publication of the catalogue of books of the former Riga Jesuit Library. 06.05.1926.

Isak Collijn’s letter to Riga City librarian Nicolaus Busch about the possible publication of the catalogue of books of the former Riga Jesuit Library

Collijn’s card index was never published as a catalogue, although he had planned to do so in the 1920s. For more than a century, the card index, which is kept at the department of Rare Books and Manuscripts of the Uppsala University Library, was accessible only to researchers. In 2018, bibliographers Laura Kreigere-Liepiņa and Renāte Berga from the National Library of Latvia launched the reconstruction work of Riga Jesuit College Library, using Collijn’s card index. They looked for the books listed in it in the book depositories of Uppsala University and other Swedish libraries. After the creation of the electronic database of Riga Jesuit books and the publication of the catalogue of this collection, the library, which had been taken away from Riga, will have a chance to return to its original location, at least in a digital form.