The National Library of Latvia (NLL) was founded on 29 August 1919, less than a year after Latvia’s declaration of independence.
The NLL is a public universal academic library that serves the intellectual development of the entire nation. It compiles and maintains the national literature collection – all printed matter relating to Latvia, as well as ensuring its accessibility to the general public. The NLL performs all the functions characteristic of national libraries, including compiling the national bibliography and being the development centre of the public library system. The library places its primary operating emphases on support for higher education, research, and lifelong learning as well as on promoting children’s reading.
The NLL collection of more than 4 million items covers all scientific disciplines with a profile in the humanities and social sciences. Library readers also have access to special collections – rare books, manuscripts, the Letonica collections, art and music, sound recordings, graphic publications, ephemera, maps.
The NLL originally developed from ‘zero’ as a bibliophiles’ library. Its corpus was based on collections of different origins that were complemented by statutory legal deposits. The core of the library’s rarities consists of printed matter (from incunabula to books in foreign languages issued up to 1830 and up to 1850 in Latvian) as well as other publications with particularly rare features. The oldest publications represent collections that belonged to Baltic-German organizations, educational institutions, and landowners.
The NLL holds 64 incunabula, 289 books published in the 16th century and 19 892 books issued before 1830. The oldest incunabulum – Spiegel der Volkommenheit by Heinrich Herpf – was printed by a successor to Johann Gutenberg, Mainz typographer P. Schäfer, in 1466?. Other incunabula worthy of mention include publications well known to researchers, such as Nuremberg printer A. Koberger’s Bible editions in Latin and German (1478 and 1483) and others printed in Lyon, Paris, and Strasbourg. The rarity collection also features book collections from 15 and 16th-century typographers such as Aldus Manutius, Giunta, Plantin, Elsevier, the Royal Printing House of Paris and other companies. Foreign rarities are dominated by western European incunabula in the German, French and Latin languages, but publications in English, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, Italian, Estonian and Greek are also quite widely represented.