University of Tartu Library (founded in 1802) is the oldest and largest research library in Estonia (3,7 million items, including the collection of old books (c. 500,000 items)). The tasks of Tartu University Library are as follows:
- Collecting, preserving and making available information necessary for learning and research needs of Tartu University.
- Providing public information services.
- Creating, preserving, and making available for research a complete collection of items published in the Estonian language, published in Estonia, dealing with Estonia, or containing information about Estonia.
- Collecting and preserving archival items concerned with the history of science and culture.
- Research and development in the field of library and information science.
The collection of old books (published since the beginning of printing up to 1917) contains first editions of scientific and literary classics, pioneering works in the history of culture and in history at large, outstanding works in the field of book art and bookbinding, books of which few copies have been printed or preserved, as well as books that have belonged to renowned persons. The manuscript collection contains Western European and Oriental illuminated codices and documents, many legal and historical sources concerning the Baltic region, and other manuscripts in the field of history of culture and science, letters and handwriting examples by well-known persons, and personal papers of Estonian scientists. The photographic collection includes real rarities such as precursors of paper photographs – daguerreotypes, as well as the world´s earliest paper photographs and photo-engravings from the 1840s to 1860s made by the English scientist W. H. F. Talbot, the inventor of the negative-positive process in photography. The most valuable part of the art collection is the 10,500-sheet collection of graphic arts and drawings from the 15th to the 19th century.