University Library "Svetozar Markovic" originates from the library of the Lyceum of the Principality of Serbia. Lyceum was founded in 1838 and had a library used by professors and pupils of the Lyceum and students of the Belgrade Gymnasium. Collections were built from gifts of local and foreign donors and the legal deposit of the Principality of Serbia. In 1863 Lyceum of the Principality of Serbia became the Great school that had a central and seminar libraries. In 1905 when the Great School became the University, the Central Library was closed, because the University did not have adequate space and resources. Existing collections were given to seminar libraries within faculties. Soon after that it became clear that the University needs a general science library, but the outbreak of the Balkan and First World War postponed its establishment.
Based on decision of the Faculty of Philosophy, which was confirmed by the Senate, the University Library was established in January 1921. In May 1921 Uros Džonić was appointed director of the University Library, which was temporarily given premises at the Faculty of Philosophy. They soon became insufficient for the large number of books that had been arriving as donations from the country and abroad to the Belgrade University.
At the initiative of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes emissary in Washington, Dr. Slavko Grujic, Carnegie Endowment, which had by then already built a number of libraries in the world, decided to grant 100 000 dollars to build and equip a library in Belgrade. Representative of the Carnegie Fund for Peace, Leo Kepser, came to Belgrade in February 1921 for the final negotiations with the Board for library building. It was agreed to build the building that fully met the needs of the University for the next half century, and that the University should take over the equipping. City of Belgrade earlier donated a land which was former racetrack to the University. It was initially planned for building a campus, and now it was intended for a library. The project was created by Board members and university professors Nikola Djordjevic and Dragutin Nestorović.
Beginning of the construction was officially celebrated on June 23rd 1921, when the Prince Regent Alexander laid the charter on parchment in the foundation of the building, in the presence of Patriarch Dimitrije, Education Minister Svetozar Pribicevic, president Slobodan Jovanovic and representatives of the University, U.S. Ambassador Percival Dodge, representative of the Carnegie Fund Lia Kepsera, Belgrade municipalities and other dignitaries. The building was completed in February 1923, but funding for the installation and the equipment from the state budget were successively provided all the way through 1926.
Library was officially opened on St. Cyril and Methodius Day, 24 May 1926. Professor Uros Džonić was director until the beginning of World War II. In his work, he had full help of the Library Board, whose chairman was professor of the Faculty of Philosophy Pavle Popovic, and members were representatives of all faculties. The main task of the Library was to "help foster science as an autonomous university institution and to serve, as a research library, not only to students and faculty of Belgrade University, but also to all those involved in science."
During World War II Library was not open to the public; part of the building was occupied by the German army, but the building and collections were mainly preserved. On the occasion of celebrating the centenary of the birth of Svetozar Markovic in 1946, the Library got its present name: University Library "Svetozar Markovic".
When designing the library building, the storage was planned for 300,000 volumes, but the library collections grew so fast that in 1975 they reached over a million volumes. Overloading led to cracking and damaging the building. During the seventies preparations for the Library renovations began. Given that the library has the status of a cultural monument, which does not allow any changes to the exterior and interior architecture, it was decided to build an underground storage on two levels, which would have a capacity sufficient for at least another 50 years. Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments of the City of Belgrade handed the technical documentation in 1980, and work had begun in 1984. The works lasted very long, because it turned out that the building foundations were not adequate and that the entire building must be placed on reinforced concrete piles, which was done later during the reconstruction.
Library Management decided in 1996 to move the collections into a newly constructed storage even though they were not technically approved. However, it became impossible to store the new publications. After the relocation of the collections, the city of Belgrade restored facade of the building, repaired the roof and installed fences. Part of the vacated storage space has been adapted for users and library staff.
With the funds of Mr. Dusan Korlat, library member and a retired judge, a former storage of 200 square meters was adapted into a reading room in 2005. City of Belgrade financed the replacement of the heating installation system and access for users with disabilities in 2006.
With the funds donated by U.S. Steel Serbia, which continues the tradition of Carnegie steels, the Student reading room and space for users on the ground floor have been renovated in 2007, and the hall on the first floor was partially redesigned as a space for exhibitions and for smaller meetings and lectures.