Mayor Proposes Closing Reykjavík Municipal Archive for Budgetary Reasons

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed that the Reykjavík Municipal Archive be shut down for budgetary reasons, RÚV reports. Per the proposal, the archive’s primary functions would be assumed by the National Archive and the dissemination of, and educational outreach related to the archive’s holdings would become the responsibility of the Reykjavík City Museum. If the proposal is approved by the city council, Reykjavík would be the first municipality in the country to close a district archive, and perhaps the only European capital not to maintain its own archive.

The Reykjavík Municipal Archive was founded in 1954. It stores over 10,500 shelf metres of documents and has also increased its digital holdings and services in recent years.

Under Icelandic law, municipalities are permitted, but not required, to operate a district archive. Iceland’s National Archives already oversees archival duties for municipalities that do not maintain their own archives. The mayor’s proposal suggests that the capital simply follow suit, as costs of effectively maintaining an archive are only expected to increase in order to keep pace with the demands of record keeping in the digital era.

In 2022, it cost the City of Reykjavík over ISK 170 million [$1.18 million; €1.10 million] to operate its Municipal Archive. It is expected to cost an additional ISK 10 million [$69,587; €64,910] to operate the archive in 2023. According to archivist Svanhildur Bogadóttir, however, the actual cost to run the archive is relatively low; a third of their budget goes towards the rent they pay the City of Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Archive does not have resources to fulfil its mandate, says private audit

The mayor’s proposal comes in the wake of an assessment conducted by auditing and accounting firm KPMG, which states that based on current funding, the Reykjavík Municipal Archive does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. KPMG’s assessment suggests that beyond the basic savings associated with greater cooperation between the Municipal and National Archives, this arrangement would also lend itself to a number of additional benefits: better facilities, better use of staff expertise, and improved services.

Although they were aware that KPMG was conducting an assessment related to “strategic planning” for the Municipal Archive, none of the employees had any idea that there was talk of closing their place of work all together before the mayor submitted his proposal. One plan that had been on the table was for the Municipal and National Archives to be relocated to the same building, but in that scenario, they were intended to remain separate entities.

The mayor’s proposal does not outline will happen to the Municipal Archive’s staff—nine full-time and two temporary employees—in the event that the archive is closed.

Longest Icelandic Love Letter Four Metres Long

The longest love letter to have been written in Icelandic is four metres [13 ft] long and was written over a month-long period a hundred and twenty years ago, RÚV reports.

The letter was written by Sigurbjörn Á. Gíslason, who was living in Copenhagen, Denmark, to his beloved, Guðrún Lárusdóttir, who was in Reykjavík. The pair would marry a year later and have ten children together.

Willem van de Poll, CC0

Guðrún was a remarkable woman: a two-term member of parliament (1930 – 1934) and only the second woman to serve in Alþingi. She was also a translator of Danish, English, and German, and a women’s rights activist. Sigurbjörn was a pastor who founded Grund, the longest-running nursing home in Iceland, and was also an editor and publisher of a number of periodicals in Reykjavík. Both Guðrún and Sigurbjörn were known around the capital for their political and social work.

In a letter she wrote him in December 1900, Guðrún asked Sigurbjörn to send her a long letter when he next replied. Her lover rose splendidly to the challenge, pasting together sheet after sheet of paper and penning his epic, affectionate reply between December 1900 and January 1901. Sigurbjörn didn’t cheat, either–his letter is written in small, ornate script across densely spaced lines. His letter was long enough, he wrote, to embrace Guðrún while he could not embrace her himself. Perhaps in a nod to Guðrún’s linguistic skills, Sigurbjörn not only wrote his letter in Icelandic, but also Danish, English, and German.

The couple’s love story unfortunately has a tragic ending. In 1938, they were travelling with two of their daughters and a driver when the vehicle they were in plunged into the Tungufljót river. Sigurbjörn and the driver were able to escape, but Guðrún and her daughters drowned. It was the first time that anyone died in a car accident in Iceland and Guðrún and her daughters were much mourned, with a large crowd gathering for their memorial procession and funeral.

The four-metre love letter is archived in the Women’s History Archives, which is located on the first floor of the National and University Library, along with over a hundred other letters the couple wrote to one another.

Majority of Regional Archives Not Prepared for Disaster

The National Archives of Iceland have been housed at Laugavegur 162 since the 1980s.

Less than a third of Iceland’s regional archives have made copies of important documents, as is dictated by disaster preparedness protocols, RÚV reports. On top of this, about two thirds of the regional archives do not have any emergency plan in place for how to respond to large-scale disasters.

According to Eiríkur G. Guðmundsson, Director General of the National Archives, the biggest reason for this oversight is that the regional archives simply do not have the resources, either in terms of staffing or funding. Eiríkur said that these archives must be prioritised if the situation is to be remedied.

Iceland has 20 regional archives, all of which are under the oversight of the country’s national archives. These archives are the repositories for institutional and governmental documents for local districts around the country.

Per Icelandic public archival laws, last amended in 2014, the country’s most important documents must be preserved on film, in electronic copy, or by means of other electronic storage method. These copies are then stored in a separate location away from the main archives. Thus far, however, only three of the 20 regional archives have assessed what documents would need to be transferred in the event of a disaster, and where.