Library activity in Latvia has ancient and strong traditions. The Riga City Library (Bibliotheca Rigensis) was established in 1524 and it is considered to be one of the first public libraries in Europe. Latvia’s first public libraries were founded in the first part of the 19th Century – in 1848 Krisjanis Valdemars established the first public library in Edole. He was the first to start an active propaganda of libraries and reading through the press and social events. In 1885 the remarkable librarian and bibliophile Janis Misins founded and later on gradually developed the most complete Latvian library at the time. In 1925 J.Misins handed his books over to Riga City (Misina Library of Riga City).
In the period between 1918 and 1940, a library system of an independent state with dominance of the most advanced (at the time) library work principles, forms and methods was formed in the Republic of Latvia. The Latvian State Library (currently – Latvian National Library) was established in 1919. In 1923, the Latvian Librarian Association was created, which actively participated in the activities of just-formed International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). With the support of a Cultural Fund, a formation of a wide public library network was commenced (912 public libraries were operating in 1937). Different library education structures (courses for librarians) were organized, a professional magazine “Librarian” was published, state library statistics were initiated and an international cooperation of libraries developed.
Nowadays liberal activities of libraries and people’s right to obtain and spread information freely is guaranteed by Clause 100 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, stating that “Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to freely acquire, hold and distribute information and to express one’s opinion freely. Censorship is prohibited.”
Particular laws form the legal ground of library sphere – the Law on Libraries, Law “On Latvian National Library” as well as other laws and regulations referring to the operation of libraries (e.g., law „On Municipalities”, „On the protection of Cultural Monuments”, etc.).
Library services comprise all spheres of activities and age groups of population. More than 32% of the total number of Latvian residents is registered as active library readers. Each reader visited a library on average 14 times and read approximately 46 books and other publications per year. There is one library per 1092 residents and there are 24 books and other publications per one resident.
Contemporary Latvian library system consists of:
- Latvian National Library;
- Latvian Academic Library;
- 892 public libraries (including 876 municipal public libraries, Latvian Library for the Blind with 7 branches in Balvi, Cesis, Daugavpils, Jelgava, Liepaja, Rezekne and Ventspils, as well as 9 other public libraries);
- 55 special libraries;
- 32 libraries belonging to an institution of higher education;
- 017 libraries belonging to schools providing general education and 121 library belonging to professional education institutions.