This library was founded in 1992 as a department of Saaremaa Museum. It did not have to start from an empty place. It was started in Kuressaare (Arensburg at that time) in 1865, when the Research Society of Saaremaa (Verein zur Kunde Oesels) was founded, the members mainly of the Baltic-German origin were interested in history. They collected items that had some historical or cultural value, but later also literature connected with it. When the Society became Saaremaa Museum, the library was taken over by the museum as well.
Unfortunately, not the complete library has remained untouched by the time. In 1935 the newer part of it was connected with the town library and in 1939 some of the more valuable items of the Baltic-German collection were taken to the Central Archive in Riga. After World War II a number of books were taken to the present-day National Library in Tallinn. Some of the books have been returned to Saaremaa Museum by now.
The aim of the Saaremaa Archival Library is to collect, preserve and make available the possibly biggest collection of books, periodicals and manuscripts about Saaremaa; complete publications or parts of them that cover Saaremaa County or the life of islanders; creative work of authors born here or who have lived on the island.
On January 1, 2009 the library contained:
– 10299 books
– 7676 periodicals
– 1028 manuscripts
The book funds contain publications concerning Saaremaa, but also textbooks and calendars from different periods of time and religious literature of earlier times. The oldest book in the library is a catechism, published in Magdeburg in 1562.
Some valuable books contain signatures and dedications of important persons, but there are also books that once belonged to different establishments in the county and contain their stamps. The library takes care of personal collections that once belonged to outstanding islanders (music teacher and composer Joosep Aavik, lawyer Karl Palk, writer Aira Kaal, etc.)
Funds of periodicals contain magazines and newspapers ever published in Saaremaa. In addition to periodicals the library has information leaflets printed for previous state farms and other enterprises, present-day newspapers of local districts and a choice of school newspapers. Besides the publication of the local press, there is a big collection of Estonian periodicals abroad.
The oldest newspaper published in Saaremaa – “Annoncenblatt” – dates from 1865. Some older newspapers of Saaremaa can be read on a microfilm (“Meie Maa”, “Saaremaa Teataja”, “Rahva Hääl”, “Arensburger Wochenschau”, etc.).
Collection of manuscripts consists mainly of research papers of country study. There are numerous studies of school history by Albert Seppel and studies of the recent history of western Saaremaa by Manivalde Jőgi. You can also find university diploma papers concerning Saaremaa and research papers from local schools; overviews of local architectural monuments, ethnographical descriptions, chronicles of establishments, biographies of the islanders’ and whole families (including Baltic German families), memories, diaries, etc.
The readers may use the following catalogues:
– books (systematized, separate literature about Saaremaa and personalia of islanders)
– manuscripts (systematized)
– periodicals (alphabetical, including periodicals of Saaremaa, foreign and others)
– separates and theses (about Saaremaa, personalia)
Files of articles:
– Saaremaa and islanders in the local press before 1940 (systematized, personalia)
– Saaremaa and the islanders in the local press after 1940 (systematized, Saaremaa and the personalia)
– Saaremaa and the islanders in the Estonian press and abroad (systematized, personalia)
– Saaremaa and the islanders in the Estonian language press abroad (about Saaremaa, personalia)
It is not possible to take the materials home, you may study them in the reading-hall. It is possible to make photocopies in the library.