Humanities collection | National Library of Estonia

Humanities collection

The humanities collection primarily covers fiction, art, music, history, cultural history, and language and literature.  

With regard to the acquisition of foreign-language literature, our focus is primarily on neighbouring regions (the Baltics, the Nordic countries, the Baltic Sea region, Europe, Russia), while classic works of fiction are also collected from across the globe. Our acquisition of German-language publications is supported by the Austrian, German, and Swiss embassies, as well as the Pro Helvetia foundation and the Goethe Institute. 

The collection can be found in the ESTER online catalogue and in the search portal of the National Library. The publications are stored in the field-specific reading rooms and the stacks. Literature kept in the stacks can be ordered for use within the library or borrowed from all of the reading rooms. 


Audio recordings

Our collection of audio recordings is one of the largest in Estonia. It comprises approximately 50,000 recordings stored on CDs, audio discs, and cassettes. Since 1959, when the Tallinn Recording Studio was established, we have sought to acquire copies of all recordings made in Estonia as well as elsewhere in the world by Estonian composers and interpreters.  

Our collection primarily consists of Estonian music, but we also have a wide selection of foreign recordings in a variety of genres, from classical to rock music. 

  • Estonian music 

  • Estonica recordings 

  • Nordic music 

  • National music 

  • Classical and contemporary music 

  • Musicals, operettas, film scores 

  • Jazz 

  • Pop and rock 

  • Collection of works by Enno and Viive Mäemets 

  • Collection of works by Neeme Järvi 


Collected humanities publications cover the following fields: 

  • history, 

  • cultural studies, 

  • ethnology and folkloristics, 

  • linguistics and literary studies.


Our map collection comprises nearly 29,000 maps, plans, atlases, charts, globes, orthophoto maps, satellite images, and digital maps, which are mostly in printed form, but also containing some manuscripts. The maps are in different languages and some of them cover the entire globe, while others are focused on various regions or specific countries, cities, or topics. 

The most valuable items in our map collection are: 

  • a collection of maps of Livonia from the 16th to 19th centuries, purchased by the National Library in 1998 from Dr. Ilo Käbina. The collection consists of 52 map sheets depicting Livonia, compiled or published by the most famous cartographers and map publishers of the time. The oldest of the maps dates from 1540. The collection has been digitised and two map folders have been issued of the digital files; 

  • a collection of plans of the architectural ensemble of Kadriorg Palace from the 18th–19th centuries, consisting of eight manuscript plans and diagrams; 

  • a set of Estonian river maps – survey maps compiled by the Bureau of Inland Waters from 1920 to 1929 (about 200 pages), bound into four folders and containing 17 river maps. 

Art publications

In the acquisition of art publications, our focus is on:  

  • scientific literature, 

  • the main sources of art history, 

  • contemporary theories. 

Music publications and musical scores

In the acquisition of music publications, our focus is on:  

  • reference works, 

  • music bibliographies, 

  • catalogues of the works of composers,  

  • music history, 

  • ethnomusicology, 

  • music theory, 

  • music psychology. 

There are more than 136,000 copies of musical scores in the collections of the National Library, stored in the circulating collection, archival collection, and the rare books collection. 

The circulating collection of musical scores was created in 1945, when statutory copies of musical scores also started to be deposited with the library from across the Soviet Union. Today, in addition to Estonian music, the circulating collection also includes diverse works by Soviet authors, as well as literature on Western classical music from throughout the centuries, series of collected works, instructional books on musical instruments, songbooks, and major works of jazz and rock music. Among the collected musical scores, readers will also find personal collections of the works of famous Estonian composers and musicians, such as Mart Saar, Cyrillus Kreek, Eduard Tubin, Veljo Tormis, Gustav Ernesaks, Tiit Kuusik, and Hendrik Krumm. 

Musical scores in the archival collection include the works of Estonians, Estonian expatriates, and Baltic German authors published in Estonia and abroad starting from 1861, while older scores are kept in the rare books collection. The oldest of our scores of art music printed in Estonia date back to the 1810s. They are the works of two Baltic German composers based in Tartu: August Heinrich von Weyrauch’s minuets for piano and Johann Friedrich Bonneval de La Trobe’s songs with piano accompaniment. 

The oldest of our foreign musical rarities is a piano reduction for the opera Alceste by 18th-century German composer Anton Schweitzer, published in Leipzig in 1774. Another of our rare scores worthy of note is a manuscript of the overture and arias of Georg Friedrich Händel’s opera Rinaldo from 1711.  

Original art

Our bookplate collection, which is one of the largest in Estonia, comprises more than 17,000 items and provides a complete overview of the evolution of bookplate art in Estonia. The collection contains the first bookplates by Paul Raud and Udo Ivask – the founding fathers of Estonian bookplate art –, as well as the works of all the best artists of their time (Eduard Wiiralt, Günther Reindorff, Hando Mugasto, Märt Laarman) up to the 1990s. 

 Our graphic art collection contains nearly 800 graphic sheets and over 300 folders. In recent years, the National Library’s collection has been studied extensively by art historian Jüri Hain, whose research has led to the publishing of a number of catalogues introducing our graphic art collection: European 17th-Century Intaglio Graphic Art at the National Library of Estonia (Tallinn, 2004), European 18th-Century Intaglio Graphic Art at the National Library of Estonia (Tallinn, 2005), A Century on Estonian Wood Engraving Blocks (Tallinn, 2006), Estonian Graphic Art from 1900 to 1940 at the National Library of Estonia (Tallinn, 2008), Paintings by Members of the Pallas Arts Association at the National Library of Estonia (Tallinn, 2008). 

 Our collection of book illustrations contains more than 8,000 original illustrations from 650 books. It holds works from all of the most renowned Estonian illustrators from the second half of the 1930s to the present day. The oldest original in the collection – Art Nouveau illustrations by Rudolf Lepik in a Pärnu County song festival album – dates from 1911. The collection contains a design by Villu Toots for the magazine Kõigile from 1938, as well as illustrations by Günther Reindorff for a translation of Jack London’s novel White Fang from 1940. 


Our poster collection, which contains more than 18,000 posters, features everything from political posters from the 1950s to author’s posters from the 1980s and cultural posters from the 1990s. Every year, 150–200 new posters are added to the collection. 


Our postcard collection contains more than 70,000 items. The older portion of the collection mainly consists of postcards with images of Estonia from 1895–1940.

Theatre, film, and dance literature

In the acquisition of theater, film, and dance literature, our focus is on:  

  • reference works, 

  • histories, 

  • theory, 

  • different genres and modes, 

  • theatre art from different countries, 

  • film art from different countries.