History of the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection
The Department of Special Collections in the Chester Fritz Library began a project in 1980 to solicit bygdebøker (local history books) from the country of Norway. Dr. Arne Brekke, then professor in the Languages Department, worked closely with Colleen (Oihus) Warner, Genealogical Bibliographer and descendant of Norwegian immigrants, to contact 450 local government entities in Norway. The rationale behind this venture was that a significant percentage of North Dakotans have Norwegian ancestry and interest in family history research in general had grown immensely, in large part due to the popularity of Alex Haley’s book Roots and accompanying television miniseries. Furthermore, the new addition to the Chester Fritz Library, under construction at that time, incorporated a large family history room, and it was anticipated that a collection of bygdebøker would be a fitting component among the resources located there.
The bygdebok project garnered its fair share of attention, including articles in various Norwegian newspapers. As a result of the contacts, about 160 individual volumes arrived from Norway before the close of 1980. By the end of 1981 about 400 books had been donated. A second solicitation led by Brekke took place in 1988, again resulting in a very favorable response. Since then, the collection has continued to grow under the direction of the heads of Special Collections: Dan Rylance, Sandy Slater, and Curt Hanson.
As of 2010, the collection consists of approximately 1220 individual volumes. Another solicitation is planned for the year as well, again with the assistance of Dr. Brekke. New bygdebøker continue to be published across Norway. Some of these are completely new books, while others update and correct information provided in previous editions. Digital publishing has had some impact on the printing of bygdebøker, whereas websites such as the Digital Archives of Norway, providing free access to searchable databases and images of primary records, make it easier for family historians to research their Norwegian roots. Despite these advancements, printed bygdebøker remain valuable to researchers, and the Department of Special Collections at the University of North Dakota’s Chester Fritz Library is proud to have one of the most comprehensive collections of bygdebøker to be found anywhere.