The University Library, one of the biggest scientific libraries in the Balkans, whose function is to serve the teaching and scientific needs of the academic population - students, university lecturers and researchers, is historically the successor of the General Library belonging to the "Serbian Lycée", the highest educational institution in Serbia at the time, founded in 1838. The teachers and pupils of the Lycée used its library, whose collection consisted of the gifts of domestic and foreign donors, and of obligatory copies of books published in Serbia. Based on the highest normative act of the Lycée, its librarian had to be "one of the Lycée professors"; thus its first librarian was dr. Janko Šafarik (1814-1876), a philologist and history professor. The Library collection consisted of 927 items in 1850.
By a legal act of 24.09.1863, the Lycée was transformed into High School. Only specialised publications remained in the Library, while others were transferred to the National Library. In 1905, when High School was transformed into University, the Library was closed and its collection was distributed among the corresponding faculty departments. The most valuable part of the collection was given to the Serbian Department. Soon it became clear that the University needed one general-type scientific library, but the beginning of World War I postponed its foundation. Parts of the Serbian Department collection were returned to the University Library after its foundation.
After World War I, due to great losses suffered by Serbian libraries, a lot of books from abroad arrived that were intended for the University Library, even though it was founded only in January 1921. In the course of a session at the Faculty of Philosophy, at the proposal of Professor Pavle Popovic, it was decided to establish the University Library. Soon afterwards this decision was approved by the University Senate, as it was then called, and Pavle Popovic was appointed President of the Committee for establishing the University Library, and Uroš Džonic was appointed as the first Director. A few rooms at the Faculty of Philosophy were given over to the Library.
At that time the Carnegie Foundation, which had helped build many libraries world-wide, agreed to deposit $ 100,000 for the purpose of constructing and equipping a library in Belgrade, owing to the initiative of our representative in the U.S., Slavko Grujic. Professor Slobodan Jovanovic, the then Rector of Belgrade University, succeeded in getting more funding from state loans, because he was aware of the need for a big University. The city donated a plot of land in downtown Belgrade. The project was done by university Professors, architects Dragutin Ðordjevic and Nikola Nestorovic, and so the first building ever built for the purposes of a library in Serbia came into being.
The Library was opened in a solemn ceremony on the Day of St Cirilo and St Metodije, 24th May 1926. Professor Uroš Dzonic remained at the post of the Director until the beginning of the Second World War. The Library Board, whose President was Professor Pavle Popovic, assisted him. The main task of the Library was “to help the development of science as an autonomous University institution and to serve as a scientific library, not only to the students and Professors of Belgrade University, but also to all scientific researchers."
During the Second World War, under the German occupation, the Library was closed to the public and part of the building was occupied by the German army. Owing to the efforts of the librarians, the collection was not damaged. After the liberation of Belgrade in 1944, Milica Prodanovic, a librarian of the University Library was appointed its Director and held that post until 1961.
In 1946, on the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Svetozar Markovic, the Library was named - The “Svetozar Markovic” University Library.
After the Second World War modern methods were introduced in the organisation of collections and cataloguing. The public systematic catalogue was created and the Rules for Cataloguing and Standardisation of Library Work in Serbia were defined and published, in co-operation with the National Library of Serbia. New contacts were established and intensive co-operation began with the University and national libraries in the country and abroad concerning exchange and interlibrary loan of library material. The Department of Information was established and co-operation with faculty, seminar, institute and other libraries at Belgrade University was broadened.
While drawing up the plans for the Library building, it was scheduled that its storehouses should hold 300.000 items, and publications were stored and classified by scientific fields. However, in the 1960’s it became clear that, despite the adaptation of new rooms, there would not be enough storage space in the building. So in 1963 the Library began to store publications based on their format in order to use the space available in the most efficient way. The Library collection increased quickly and reached the level of 1 million items in 1975, and at the end of millennium the Library had almost one and a half million items. Such a great number of items surpassed the building capacity, as a result of which it became seriously overburdened. That was why work with a view to preserving, reconstructing and adapting the building got under way in the 1970’s.
The Library has the status of a cultural monument and it is not allowed to change it either inside or outside in architectural terms; therefore, it was decided to build a two-level underground storehouse for the Library collection, which would have the capacity sufficient to last for at least 50 years. The Belgrade Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments prepared the technological and investment documents in 1980, and the work started in 1984. In the meantime, the Library staff moved almost 200,000 items to improvised storage rooms both inside and outside the building; these were returned to the collection after the new storehouse had been finished. Because of lack of space for new publications which lasted for many years, as well as because of the damage the building sustained due to being overloaded, the Library staff decided in 1996 to move the collection into new storehouses although they were not technically adequate. After the collection had been moved, the Belgrade City Assembly provided the funds and the façade of the building was reconstructed, the roof was renovated, as well as the fence and the hall on the ground floor. Parts of the emptied storehouse rooms have been temporarily adapted for working space: the Internet room and the computer centre have been opened, and some rooms have been adapted for the work of users and the Library staff. A complete reconstruction and adaptation of the building has not got under way yet and there are no projects for such serious work.
The Library has made efforts to modernise its work in accordance with its potential. In 1987 the University defined the library as the centre of the University information system and in 1988 the automatisation of Library work got under way, as well as its participation in the Yugoslav System of Scientific and Technological Information. The librarians started compiling an electronic catalogue that is available online 24 hours a day. One month after the Internet service had been introduced in Serbia, the library enabled its users to search the Internet; the first Yugoslav library web site on the Internet was created at the University Library in May 1996. In 1992 the Association of Academic Libraries was formed at the Library.
It was in the 1990’s that the inflow of foreign publications in particular suddenly decreased, due to the economic crisis and the international isolation of the country. That is why the Library collection lacked, and therefore the scientific and cultural public too, many publications that had been acquired before on a regular basis. At the beginning of the new millennium, international contacts were re-established, so we may expect that the University Library will be able to fulfil the tasks of a contemporary library and information centre.