Reveling in Reykjavík

We come from the land of the ice and snow / From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.  

I couldn’t get Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” out of my head when we were in Iceland this July…

Grófarhús (the museum)

Grófarhús (the museum)

…though I got a brief respite while gaping at the wonders of the fabulous Borgarbókasafn Reykjavíkur (or in English, Reykjavík City Library (RCL)).

For the past 15 years, they’ve occupied the first, second and fifth floors of this downtown building.  City offices and archives are on the third and fourth levels and a photography museum is on the sixth.

Informative staffer at the main desk

Obliging woman at the main desk

The system includes six culturehouses, a library in a school, a bookmobile, and a storymobile called The Jester goes to nurseries and after school day care centers.

The director and each branch manager have MLS’s and many of the librarians specialized in libraries at university or are historians or students.  Extra summer personnel from June 1 to August 15 aids with the additional business from visitors – the friendly staffer above started in high school.



RCL has a variety of innovative offerings – in this section near Circulation, you can pick paintings to rent or purchase.

Modern design informs the interior.  Setting off the white walls, furnishings and fixtures come in vivid geometric shapes that complement striking structural contours.  A curved ceiling above bright orange seating and one of the promotional big TV screens resembles a jigsaw piece.

Near the entrance

Love the zebra prints

Notices are posted on a mesh metal slab that wraps around the corner.  Spindles look like artwork and rearranging things is a snap since stacks are on wheels.  Face out shelving seems to be a priority and even the silver security mirrors are intriguing.

Quite an assortment to tempt you by checkout

Quite an assortment to tempt you by checkout

There’s lots for sale to benefit RCL.  Besides the bóksala (book sale, but you knew that didn’t you?), toys, dolls from Nordic stories, lunchboxes, contact lens cases, masks, crockery, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, art kits and supplies, music boxes, magnifiers, placemats and postcards are just a small sampling of what you can buy.

Relax with a magazine

Relax with a magazine

RCL has RFID and patrons check out their own materials.  Users appreciate the free wifi and three public computers on the 5th floor and can also borrow Kindles.

Ascending the glass enclosed staircase I encountered a little theater space with costumes and a mini stage where kids can put on plays or just dress up.


Fun time!

Close by, Children’s has a highchair next to a table covered with a matryoshka doll tablecloth and parents sit on the ground comfortably on whimsical stuffed pillows.  Blond wood cradles the picture books and sunny yellow shelves hold the rest of the collection.  A shoe rack keeps the mats clean and a giant snake and oversized stuffed bear perch high up overseeing the room.

Helpful children's staffer

Helpful employee at the youth counter

The arms of a barren wintry tree trunk silhouette grab your coat.  Young artists’ pieces and charts of indigenous animals cheerily deck the walls.  There are board games and puzzles, homework assistance, arts and crafts, storytimes and family mornings.

Lots of color

Lots of color

In April they hold the Reykjavík Children’s Culture Festival.  As usual, there was a lot happening this year – tale telling (including recipes for witches’ brews), an exhibit featuring snaps adolescents took of their favorite places and another of sound sculptures and art created by nursery school attendees.  Tots could play bingo or chess, attend a concert or a production of Prumpuhóllinn (Farting 😉 Palace or Hill) or learn some Lithuanian or Ghanan dances and words.  A prize is given for the kids’ favorite Icelandic and translated books and teens read titles in their native languages to youngsters.

Great way to fill an alcove

Amusing alcove

A sense of humor permeates the surroundings.  This delightful carving made me smile and Miss Piggy highlights a display of porcine figurines.

Walls sport fanciful hangings – a paisley form comprised of buttons catches the eye and local faces in black and white photos sparkle with impish glee.  A porthole window lights the bean bag filled teen spot and sketches plaster the space.

YA Lounge

YA Lounge

Their comics department is currently running a series showcasing Icelandic comic artists and has tons of manga in with Asterix and Tintin.

RCL has email reference, home delivery for the infirm, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page with pictures of yoga sessions and bands as well as advertisements for job openings, their GBLT collection and a strolling cultural “safari” presented in English, Polish, Vietnamese, Thai, Arabic and Portuguese.  Though Icelanders are legendary for the amount of literature they produce per capita, there is a limit to the output of 330,000 people, so items come in a myriad of languages for all ages.

Áslaug on the rd level, by the DVDs

Áslaug is waiting for your questions

On the fifth floor I found a movie room where each Thursday in summer they air a film Spirits of Iceland: Living With Elves, Trolls and Ghosts, then take sightseers on Dark Deeds, a one and a half hour literary walking tour of downtown with ghost stories.  Ever resourceful about increasing their coffers, they’ll do it on request for groups for a fee.

Media area

Media area

This location has over 4000 DVDs and the music department includes antique LPs.

Upper tiers have views of the sea and mountains and boats in the harbor.

Perhaps not the most comfortable chair, but quite creative

Perhaps not the cushiest chair, but remarkable nonetheless

RCL publishes an English language newsletter and hosts acting and writing workshops and films in conjunction with the capital’s international film festival.

Cards cost about $15 annually, but seniors and under 18’s don’t pay and books go out for a month.  Though you can only check out movies for two days, documentaries get a week and music a fortnight.

For the 22,000 immigrants per year, the library has a number of multicultural projects aimed at facilitating their integration into this unique country.

Nearby Gullfoss

Nearby Gullfoss

This warm and welcoming resource adds the cozy fire to this pretty little city in the land of the ice and snow.

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One Response to Reveling in Reykjavík

  1. Patricia Hassan says:

    What a fun and fanciful place RCL is! I’m super-impressed by the ghost tour and cultural “safari”! Probably the library is a very bright spot for residents during the months of darkness.

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