Necessity is the mother of invention

Since 2001 libraries in Iceland have cooperated on a nationwide basis through the company Landskerfi bókasafna hf. (e. Consortium of Icelandic Libraries). The company was originally founded by the state and the municipalities in Iceland.

The Consortium of Icelandic Libraries provide professional services to the libraries and patrons.The company was instituted to operate a central national library system for Iceland and to provide professional services to the libraries. It had been put out to tender in the EEA the previous year. Since then the company‘s agreements have been expanded and the company is now able to provide services to museums, as well as art and photography galleries.

The first step was taken in 1998 when a committee was established by the Minister for Education for the purpose of submitting proposals for the selection of a new library system that could suit all libraries in Iceland, including the National and University Library of Iceland (Landsbókasafn Íslands – Háskólabókasafn), public libraries, school libraries and research libraries.

The main goal was to streamline further the operation of libraries by eradicating the duplication of work involved in the registration of bibliographic and user information and to avoid the operation and maintenance of multiple library systems with the attendant costs.

In addition, the goal was to ensure equality among Icelanders by making the collection of each library, or the collections of all the libraries in the country as a whole, accessible on the Internet.

The committee proposed that one library system and a single catalogue should ideally serve all libraries in Iceland, which led to the idea of merging all libraries in Iceland into a single national system.

The result of the invitation to tender for a library system for Iceland was that negotiations were initiated with Ex Libris for the purchase of the Aleph library system. The system was given the name Gegnir in Icelandic. The system was formally inaugurated on 19 May 2003.

Access to collections

In 2006, the SFX link resolver system from Ex Libris was adopted for the universities and some of the research libraries in the partnership. The next major step in the system operation was achieved in 2011 when the national search and discovery portal was launched.

The site is based on the Primo software from Ex Libris. From the very beginning the aim was to not only provide access to library collections through the portal, but also to other collections such as museums, art and photography galleries.

In the autumn of 2013, the company undertook the operation of the culturalhistorical database Sarpur, including an external website, both owned by a separate company named the Sarpur Management Company (Rekstrarfélag Sarps). The National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands) initiated the work on the Sarpur database and its first version was launched at approximately the same time as the invitation to tender for Gegnir.

Sarpur builds on Icelandic software which was written especially for the project. By taking on the management of Sarpur the Consortium of Icelandic Libraries became directly responsible for software development, whereas until that time the company‘s activities had solely been the management of commercial system solutions.

E-books in Icelandic

During the last two years the company has, in collaboration with Borgarbókasafn Reykjavíkur (e. Reykjavik Public Library) initiated talks with Félag íslenskra bókaútgefenda (e. Icelandic Publishers Association) on the possibility of lending Icelandic e-books in libraries in Iceland, as well as looking at available systems for ebook lending.

The outcome was the negotiation of a contract with Overdrive Inc., the American digital distributor of e-books, audiobooks, music, and video titles, stipulating digital access and lending of e-books and audiobooks. According to the contract libraries can buy e-books and audiobooks from Overdrive and make them available to their users.

Most books are in English but the long term objective of the project is to be able to access Icelandic material through the digital lending library in due course. The contract is valid for all Icelandic public libraries, affiliated with the Consortium. The project is initially a joint venture of the Consortium and The Reykjavik Public Library.

According to the contract The Reykjavik Public Library will be the first public library to implement a digital lending library for e-books and audiobooks in January 2017. The plan is for other public libraries to follow in its footsteps in due course.

According to the contract, The Consortium will be responsible for the system’s management while Reykjavik Public Library will see to the acquisition of materials to provide access to and general user services.


One of the main characteristics of the systems that the company represents is that they are operated on a national level. Gegnir is open to all libraries in Iceland and most of them, i.e. some 270, have taken advantage of the offer. is also a nationwide search portal – and the same applies to the cultural-historical database Sarpur.

Another characteristic of the company is that it manages system operations for Icelandic libraries but not their subscriptions. All subscriptions to the collections are managed by the libraries themselves or by the Iceland Consortium for Electronic Subscriptions (Landsaðgangur að rafrænum áskriftum),, a partnership that has been around since 1999. The same will apply to lending of e-books and audiobooks through the Overdrive system, which will be open to all public libraries affiliated with the Consortium.

Bibliography must be consistent

Another key factor of the Library Consortium is that it has always been based on extensive and effective cooperation with its affiliated libraries. This applies equally to daily operations and services as well as new challenges. In this regard it may be mentioned that when Gegnir was established two councils were also established by the Consortium, i.e. skráningaráð Gegnis (e. Gegnir Cataloguing Council) and efnisorðaráð Gegnis (e. Subject Heading Council). They are composed of experts appointed by the libraries.

The role of the Cataloguing Council is to regulate all registration of bibliographic records in Gegnir. Gegnir‘s Subject Heading Council is a forum for controlled subject headings. Since all cataloguing is done in a single bibliographic database it is important to have clear rules that ensure the quality and consistency of bibliographic records.

This arrangement presumes that the libraries own the data records catalogued in the library system and are responsible for their quality whereas the Consortium is responsible for the systems and their daily operation. It should be noted that the cultural history museums have now established a cataloguing council for Sarpur which is modelled on Gegnir Cataloguing Council.

About 20 courses a year

Providing services to affiliated libraries is a very big part of the consortiums system management. Libraries call for assistance or service by creating a work order on the service platform or by calling the helpdesk. The service platform also contains extensive guidance on the use of the systems and other related activities.

Another way to disseminate information is through seminars that the company organizes. On average about twenty courses are held every year, both on the premises of the company but also outside the capital. They are a platform to present innovations as well as to offer guidance on the use of the systems for both experienced librarians and new employees of the library. Participants exchange views and discuss possible improvements. Thus, the courses also provide an opportunity for the company to improve its services.

Only seven employees

We are proud of the progress that has been made since the company was founded in 2001. There are many challenges involved in operating a single central library system and a union catalogue for different types of libraries, varying greatly in size and often having very different needs.

This means that the results are perhaps not least based on having achieved a fairly general agreement on the existing arrangements for a national library system in Iceland. This has been accomplished by constant communication with the affiliated libraries on how to provide the best service, but also on the most effective means of meeting the needs of the central system.

However, resources are, and have always been, limited in the management of a company that today has only seven employees. The next challenge will be the company’s choice of a new system which will be the successor to the system used in Gegnir.

The main emphasis will still be on a national library consortium since all parties agree that the benefits of such cooperation in a society of less than 340,000 people scattered around an island of 103,000 km2 located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, are much greater than its disadvantages.

Managing Director Consoritum of Icelandic Libraries