In 1852, twenty-year-old Willard Fiske carried home from his Scandinavian sojourn the first volumes of what became, in his lifetime, an Icelandic collection surpassed only by those of the Royal Library in Copenhagen and the National Library in Reykjavík. Acquiring books on Iceland, on anything relating to the Viking forays throughout medieval Europe, and on the exploration of the North Atlantic, remained a life-long passion. In a letter to Halldór Hermannsson, then his young assistant and later the first curator of the Fiske Icelandic Collection, Fiske defined his broad vision for the scope of the collection: We are including the Old-Northern tongue & literature of whatever epoch.
The Fiske Icelandic Collection arrived at Cornell in the spring of 1905. In a brilliant career spanning four decades as curator of the collection and editor of Islandica, its associated monographic series, Halldór Hermannsson nearly tripled the number of volumes. The Icelandic Collection continues to grow today in both Old Norse and modern Icelandic studies, investigating diverse media such as rare photographs; recorded modern literature; films on dvd; and Internet projects such as SagaNet, a venture with the National Library of Iceland to create a database of digitized saga manuscript images.