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Volter Kilpi

Volter Adalbert Kilpi (until 1885 Ericsson)
Born December 12, 1874 Kustavi, Turku archipelago. Died June 13, 1939, Turku.

Master of Arts (Art History), 1900, Imperial Alexander University

Head Librarian, 1921-39, University of Turku Library
Librarian, 1920/1, University of Turku
Librarian, 1919/20, Turku City Library
Assistant Librarian, 1912-18, Helsinki City Library
Librarian, 1906-11, Undergraduate Library
Amanuensis extraordinarius, 1898-1918, Imperial Alexander University Library

Volter Kilpi Literary Festival (since 1999)
Volter Kilpi Seura (society) established, 1988
Memorial plaque, Turku, 1974
Finnish State Prize for Literature, 1901, 1934, 1938

Photo: Volter Kilven seura
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Internship leads to a library career of over 20 years

Kustavi, on the Turku archipelago, was home to Volter Kilpi (until 1885) before he enrolled with the History and Languages Department at the Imperial Alexander University in 1895. He immersed himself in his studies: philosophy, world literature and modern languages. Kilpi graduated with a master’s degree in art history at 1900.

Kilpi started working at the University library in 1898 even during his student years. He was an intern initially and subsequently a supernumerary amanuensis. Kilpi ended up working for the Library for over twenty years. He was also librarian for the undergraduate library between 1906 and 1911, and an assistant librarian for the Helsinki City Library from 1912 to 1918.

Arguably the most significant contribution during his years with the University Library was to catalogue and arrange the book and map library of the Finnish explorer A.E. Nordenskiöld. The collection included thousands of titles, mainly of geographical literature and travel accounts, as well as a unique collection of about 24,000 historical maps. The earliest of these are from the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Nordenskiöld’s map collection was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register in 1997.

Kilpi’s long and varied experience of library work meant he was well placed to take up the new post of librarian at the University of Turku Library in 1920, and in the following year as head librarian. Kilpi’s influence on the development of the Library was huge. He created a classification system and principles for cataloguing the collection along central European and Swedish lines, as well as making extensive acquisitions. Kilpi was head librarian for the Turku library until falling ill. He died shortly after in 1939. Over the years the University of Turku Library has commemorated its first head librarian in many ways. The internet database Volter opened in 1993 was named for Kilpi. Moreover, since 2011 researchers have been able to use a study, in which Volter Kilpi’s personal library has been gifted by the Kilpi estate and the Volter Kilpi Seura (‘society’).

Volter Kilpi in 1932. Photo: Volter Kilven seura.​
Volter Kilpi in 1932. Photo: Volter Kilven seura.​



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