Does Iceland Have a National Library?

national and university library of iceland

Yes, it does, but it’s more properly known as the National and University Library of Iceland.

It’s by the far the largest library in Iceland, but despite Iceland’s long literary history, it’s a rather new addition to Reykjavík. It was only established in 1994 by an agreement between the former National Library (established in 1818) and the University Library (established in 1940). Before the library took on its current form, the National Library of Iceland was housed in the House of Collections, which now houses a museum.

Debate began already in the 1950s that it was inefficient to have two major research libraries in separate buildings. The former location in the House of Collections was also considered to be insufficient for the future needs of the National Library system, so the decision was made to construct a new home for the collection.

After some economic setbacks in the 1970s that delayed the project, the first shovel was officially put in the ground in 1978. A fun fact is that Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, Iceland’s former president and the first democratically-elected female head of state in the world, helped lay the foundation for the building in 1981. As with many such projects, it ended up being delayed and over-budget. But finally, in 1994, the 50-year anniversary of Iceland’s independence, the new building was officially opened.

Now, the National and University Library houses a collection of around 1 million items of printed material and other media formats. Important parts of the library include its legal collection, historical documents, rare books and manuscripts, academic journals, and a comprehensive collection of nearly all Icelandic-language publications.

While it also serves as the research library for the University of Iceland, because it is also the National Library, it is open to all residents of Iceland.

Vital to Prevent Travellers from Hiking Near Glymur in Winter

glymur tourist death

The Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board has stated that more needs to be done to prevent tourists from hiking up to the Glymur waterfall during wintertime. In an interview with Vísir, he stated that a meeting would be called with landowners, representatives of the municipality, and the local police, among others, in order to discuss measures to ensure the safety of travellers in the area.

First recorded death near the waterfall

As reported earlier this week, a woman in her thirties died after suffering a two-hundred-metre fall near the waterfall Glymur, in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland. Conditions near the waterfall were reportedly dangerous, and the accident is currently under investigation. Following the young woman’s death, many people have called for the authorities to better ensure the safety of travellers at popular tourist destinations.

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Jón Þór Víglundsson, Public Relations Officer with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (Landsbjörg), stated that conditions near the Glymur waterfall, vis-a-vis the safety of travellers, were “seriously lacking.” Jón Þór also called for improvements in “a broader context,” encouraging the government to roll up its sleeves and improve safety on roads.

Interested parties to meet

Arnar Már Ólafsson, Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board, agrees with Jón Þór’s assessment; the safety of tourists in Iceland needs to be widely reviewed.

“It is necessary to act in all contexts where the safety of tourists is deemed to be lacking. For example, in this area in question during wintertime, the hiking trail up to the Glymur waterfall on the east side of the river is very dangerous. There’s a log of wood that straddles the river, intended to make the crossing of the river easier, but that log is removed in the fall – because people are not expected to hike there during winter. There is also an information sign at the parking lot warning people not to hike in the area during wintertime. But we need to look at this even more closely and try to prevent people from hiking there during the winter.”

Arnar Már stated that it was imperative that the authorities acted quickly.

“I’m going to convene all the involved parties – the landowners, municipalities, the rescue society in Akranes, the West Iceland police, and ICE-SAR – so that we can discuss what needs to be done in order to promote increased safety in the area.”

Growing Violence in Downtown Reykjavík a Cause for Concern

capital area police, police

In an interview with the Kastljós news programme yesterday, an assistant chief superintendent with the capital area police expressed growing concern over increased violence in downtown Reykjavík. The threshold for the use of sharp weapons, he noted, appears to be lower among young men.

Recent incidents of violence

Following recent incidents of violence in downtown Reykjavík, Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Assistant Chief Superintendent with the Capital Area Police, was interviewed for the news programme Kastljós on RÚV yesterday.

He began by confirming reports that some of the incidents – among them the apprehension and detainment of a man who had discharged a firearm in the Dubliner pub in downtown Reykjavík – were, in some way, related to the knife attack in Bankastræti Club nightclub last year.

When asked if these incidents were the results of a kind of gang war, Ásgeir stated the following: “Some of the cases are in the early stages of the investigation … but there are, as we’ve seen, groups in downtown Reykjavík, and beyond that area, that are fighting.” These groups are rather sizable, according to the police officer.

Ásgeir also stated that most of the individuals involved in the recent violent attacks were young men and that the police were worried about this trend. “Young people, mostly young men, and boys are increasingly fighting in larger groups and the threshold for employing sharp weapons has become quite low.”

“And is this a new trend? Is violence growing more extreme and increasing?” the interviewer inquired.

“Yes, over the past few years, violence has certainly increased,” Ásgeir responded. “It’s grown more extreme. The threshold for employing sharp weapons and even firearms has been lowered. And that’s a cause for concern.”

Altering conceptions of violence

Ásgeir also noted that the concept of “violence” appeared to have shifted among the youth. “We’ve had surveys where respondents are asked if they’ve ever been subject to violence, and the response is ‘No.’ But then there’s a follow-up question where interviewees are asked if they’ve been punched or put in a chokehold, and these same respondents reply ‘Yes.’ So the concept of violence appears to be somewhat distorted among young people.”

In reference to another interview with a law enforcement officer, Ásgeir was asked whether it was true that the atmosphere in downtown Reykjavík had changed. Ásgeir replied that the police have increasingly been forced to dispatch larger units when violent incidents involving sharp weapons are reported. “There has been increased training in order to meet these new circumstances, which began in 2014 or 2015 … but these are tools that we don’t want to use. We want peace in the city. We need to find a solution. And the only way to do that is to work with the youth.”

Ásgeir was also asked about the newly approved regulations authorising police officers to use electroshock weapons, that is, whether such weapons could prove effective in incidence involving sharp weapons. Ásgeir stated that the most extreme weapon in the officer’s belt, aside from the firearm, was the billy club. Which was why electroshock weapons were useful. “Electroshock weapons are classified in the same category as clubs,” Ásgeir noted.

ASÍ Concerned Over Rising Debt Service Burden of Households

apartments downtown Reykjavík housing

An economist with the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) has expressed worry over the housing market’s “weak support system” and has called on the government to take special measures to respond to interest rate increases. This year, almost 4,500 households will be withdrawn from the shelter of fixed interest rates, RÚV reports.

Concern for the near future

Since 2020, Iceland’s Central Bank has collected detailed data on real estate loans from the three large commercial banks, the ÍL Fund (the Housing Financing Fund), and the country’s nine largest pension funds. According to this data, almost 75% of households pay less than ISK 200,000 [$1,432 / €1,334] per month in interest and instalments while 14% pay more than ISK 250,000 [$1,789 / €1,667]. As noted in the Central Bank’s Financial Stability Report, defaults by households and companies have been very low. Nevertheless, Róbert Farestveit, Director of ASÍ’s Economics and Analysis Department, fears what lies ahead.

“We are concerned about those groups where over 40% of disposable income goes to housing costs,” Róbert told RÚV. “That group is quite large in Iceland.” Róbert took the example of an ISK 43 million [$308,000 / €287,000] non-indexed loan with a variable interest rate that was signed two years ago. When the interest rate was 3.4%, the payment burden was ca. ISK 163,000 [$1,166 / €1,087]. The interest rate now is 8.5% and the monthly payment has reached ISK 313,000 [$2,240 / €2,088]. “Those who have recently taken out a loan and those who increased their indebtedness at variable interest rates will feel this the most,” says Róbert.

Specific resources required

Since the Central Bank started a series of rate hikes in May 2021, many borrowers decided to fix the interest rates on their loans. This year, almost 4,500 households will be pulled out from that shelter of fixed interest rates. “This group expects to see a higher debt burden as things currently stand. Many borrowers are, therefore, expected to switch to indexed loans – and that trend has already begun,” Róbert remarked.

Róbert told RÚV that the Confederation of Icelandic Labour (ASÍ) was concerned about those households burdened with increased debt service. “We have been concerned that the support systems of the housing market are weak. Housing support is not great enough. This problem needs to be met with specific measures and not general ones.”

Housing market expected to cool even further

In an interview with Mbl.is yesterday, Þorvaldur Gissurarson, CEO and owner of ÞG Verk, argued that it was likely that the Central Bank’s latest interest rate hike would serve to “further cool the housing market” while at the same time reducing new construction projects and sales. This might spell renewed tension in the market when interest rates begin to fall again.

Mbl.is also spoke to Vignir Steinþór Halldórsson, owner of the construction company Öxa, who stated that the interest rate increases had had a significant impact on the housing market.

“We see what’s happening in the rental market. It’s exploding. Ever since first-time buyers stopped qualifying for loans (i.e. failing bank payment evaluations) – given that the requirements have become so rigid – many have had no choice but to rent or move back in with their parents. So, when interest rates go down, this will blow up in our faces and demand will once again exceed supply.”

Deep North Episode 18: A Diamond in the Rough

icelandic language rasmus rask

In the fall of 1813, a young, shy Danish man disembarked from a cargo sailing ship in Reykjavík harbour. His name was Rasmus Kristian Rask (1787-1832), but he was no merchant, nor was he a tourist. Short in stature and modestly dressed, his face was thin and fine-featured, long-nosed with round, clear eyes that burned with enthusiasm and intellect. Rask had been offered free passage to Iceland by appreciative Icelanders fascinated by the diminutive young Dane who so loved their language. He had come to the remote Danish colony for a two-year stay to master the language and test a theory he had devised; that Icelandic was the closest thing to an ancestor of all the other Germanic languages.

Read the full story here.

Men’s National Football Team Endures Heavy Loss in Bosnia

football soccer

The Icelandic men’s national football team lost to Bosnia and Herzegovina in their first match in the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifying tournament. Head coach Arnar Þór Viðarsson told the media that the opening game, although disappointing, had not amounted to a “must-win,” RÚV reports.

A resounding 3-0 defeat

In their opening match of the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers, the Icelandic men’s national football team suffered a resounding 3-0 defeat. As noted by RÚV, the spirited atmosphere at Zenica, often referred to as “the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” fueled the home team, bolstered by the enthusiasm of 15,000 Bosnian supporters. Iceland’s defence consistently lagged.

Both teams began the game with vigour, with Icelandic goalkeeper Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson managing two impressive saves early on in the game. Bosnia attacked relentlessly, however, netting the first goal in the 14th minute; Rade Krunic converted a pass in Iceland’s box.

Iceland attempted to retaliate through the long throws of Hörður Björgvin Magnússon, but clear chances were scarce in the first half. Though Iceland improved, they were unable to contain Krunic, who netted his second goal in the 38th minute.

Futile possession

Although Iceland maintained greater ball possession than Bosnia, the team appeared to lack offensive aggression. Hákon Arnar Haraldsson nearly closed the gap at the end of the first half, but both he and the home team’s goalkeeper stumbled on the uneven Zenica pitch, RÚV notes.

In the 61st minute, Amar Dedic’s left-footed shot from the right wing evaded Rúnar Alex, making the score 3-0. The match gradually petered out in the final 30 minutes, culminating in a disheartening loss for Iceland in their opening qualifier.

“Not a must-win”

In a press conference after the match, head coach Arnar Þór Viðarsson maintained that Bosnia was “a much better team” than people generally think. “We threw it away, you could say. They were very solid. They were very strong. We couldn’t regain our composure after the first goal, and we were trying to relay information to the players just before the second goal was netted,” he stated.

Arnar also maintained that the opening game had not been a must-win as far as the group is concerned. “It was, of course, a bad loss, and we need to learn from it. We need to take things to a higher level and a higher tempo. We need to adjust our game significantly if we are going to fight for second place in the group. This is part of football, unfortunately. It’s often difficult to play away from home and secure a win.”

Arnar added that the team had been “a little better in the second half” but that it had, nonetheless, been unable to stop Bosnia defensively. He still believes that the team can turn things around.

When asked what needed to change, Arnar replied in succinct fashion: “Winning games. It’s that simple. But we mustn’t forget that Bosnia is a much better team than people wanted to believe.”

Liechtenstein awaits

The team’s next game is on Sunday against Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein lost their opening match in the group against Portugal 4-0, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice. Portugal now sits at the top of the group; Slovakia and Luxembourg drew 0-0.