A Scandinavian bibliophile’s dream

Over 6,000 Nordic books line the walls of this popular Boston-area Scandinavian Library

Photo courtesy of the Scandinavian Library Today the Scandinavian Library is home to over 6,000 books in all Scandinavian languages (and a little English).

Photo courtesy of the Scandinavian Library
Today the Scandinavian Library is home to over 6,000 books in all Scandinavian languages (and a little English).

Molly Jones
The Norwegian American

What began as a dream in 1994 has become the Scandinavian Library, a meeting place for those with Nordic heritage in the Boston area and a unique spot among Scandinavian communities in the country.

It all started when Ullabritt Lam and Heidi Hipple, two board members of the Swedish Home for Scandinavians in West Newton, Mass., suggested using two of the rooms in the home’s cottage buildings for a long-desired Scandinavian library.

They presented the idea at a meeting of the Nordic Women’s Network, and as a result, two Norwegian women, Astrid Carliner and Nina Pedersen, joined in on their dream. After several months of discussion with the Swedish Home, the library was given the opportunity to use the two rooms on a one-year trial basis. Thus the Scandinavian Library and Information Center was born.

Now they needed just one thing: books! The local Scandinavian community graciously donated boxes upon boxes of books. They also requested donations from several Scandinavian publishers, and Aschehoug from Norway was especially generous.

With two full rooms of books and a membership system in place, the Scandinavian Library opened its doors in September 1994, open on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

One of the rooms was transformed into a reading room serving coffee, waffles, and other treats, and the four women welcomed many guests to the new weekend hangout spot, which had become an instant hit.

The library attracted people who would not otherwise have visited the Swedish Home, so their one-year contract was quickly extended. And when the Swedish Home started making plans to upgrade to an assisted living center—the Scandinavian Living Center—they knew they had to include space for the library in the new construction designs.

With a beautiful, permanent new home, the Scandinavian Library naturally decided to expand its programs. It grew the reading room into a Kaffestuga offering treats such as kanelbulle (cardamom cinnamon roll), toscabakelse (almond toffee pastry), waffles, open-faced sandwiches, and more.

With more room, the library could also increase its book collection. In addition to a solid representation of the classics, the library buys new books each year to keep up with the works of contemporary Nordic authors.

Members can now choose from more than 6,000 books—a combination of Nordic novels and children’s books in their original language and books about Nordic topics in English. Most materials can be checked out for a month.

There is also a new, online catalog system available for members to loan or put a hold on materials, and the library plans to continue adding ebooks and electronic resources to the collection.

In addition to providing the Scandinavian community with reading material, the library organizes events such as lectures, concerts, and informational meetings. They also show Scandinavian films in their monthly film series, held September through June. After the screenings, members can check out the DVDs.

The Scandinavian Library is a nonprofit organization run entirely by volunteers and a committee with representatives from each of the five Nordic countries. They are able to purchase new reading material and organize these programs through membership fees, donations, and fundraising events.

Memberships provide access to the library materials, invitations to exclusive events, and a news bulletin; the annual cost is $30 per individual or household or $20 per senior or student/au pair.

Over the years, the Scandinavian Library has served as the perfect meeting place for Boston-area Scandinavians looking to delight in Nordic literature and celebrate their heritage over a newspaper and a cinnamon roll.

“The library is a place for me to connect with my Scandinavian roots and to also keep up my Swedish. When I was a child, I dreamed of moving to Sweden and learning to speak Swedish. After graduating high school in 1997, I was able to fulfill my dream and moved to Sweden to go to gymnasiet and learn Swedish while living with my relatives. A month after I came home from Sweden, I started working at the Scandinavian Library and I’ve been working there ever since. Working at the library has given me a chance to stay connected to present-day Scandinavia,” said Rachel Joiner-Escola, the Scandinavian Library’s librarian.

Heidi Hipple and Astrid Carliner have continued to support the library’s legacy by volunteering on Saturdays more than two decades after the library’s founding. This September, the library will commemorate its 22nd anniversary with an open house celebration.

To learn more about the Scandinavian Library, visit scandinavianlibrary.org.

This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.