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New research: How public libraries contributed to the enforced assimilation of the Torne Valley

During the early part of the 20th century, the Swedish state pursued assimilation policies directed against Tornedalians. In a new scientific article, Professor Joacim Hansson shows how public libraries became a tool of these policies.

A book shelf with books in meänkieli.

Books in meänkieli, Hallunda library. Photo: Elisabet Rundqvist/The National Library of Sweden

The article describes how libraries in the Torne Valley area were kept under state control during the first half of the 20th century, and how they became part of the strategy for eradicating the Finnish and Meänkieli languages in the region. To this end, a complex set of policies were applied until 1957 for the promotion of a uniform Swedish language and a homogenous culture.

Books in Finnish were not permitted in the libraries, and use of the Finnish language was not allowed either. At this time Meänkieli was not recognised as a language of its own. Still, the demand for Finnish literature persisted among library users, and ultimately libraries became permitted to have a certain amount of titles in that language.

The perspectives presented in the article shine a critical light on the image of public libraries and their history. The text concludes with descriptions of how libraries today have the opportunity to work to promote Sweden’s national minority languages.

Read the article

The article was published in IFLA Journal, August 2023:

Public libraries in language assimilation policies: The Swedish Tornedalian example External link.


The research was commissioned by the National Library of Sweden following contacts with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Tornedalians, Kvens and Lantalaiset. Professor Joacim Hansson of Linnæus University was given the task of examining source material compiled by Nordkalottbiblioteket and Marita Mattson Barsk.

Further information

You can also watch this March 2023 lecture (in Swedish) by Joacim Hansson from the National Library’s webinar ”Working with national minorities in public libraries”, where he describes the article’s contents in greater detail: Bidrog folkbiblioteken till försvenskningen av Tornedalen? External link. (Did the public libraries contribute to the Swedicization of the Torne Valley?) (20 min)

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