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The Bibliotheque Nationale de France

The National Library of France

The mission of the French national library, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, is to collect and conserve all works published in France, regardless of media, with the explicit purpose of making them available to researchers and journalists. Under French law, all publishers must deposit several copies of each work they publish in the library upon publication.

In 1368, Charles V, “the Wise”, had his own personal library moved into the Louvre. The collection contained nine hundred and seventeen manuscripts. In those days, however, royal collections were transient in nature as they were irretrievably dispersed on their owner’s death. It was not until Louis XI, who reigned from 1461 to 1483, that continuity was established – reflecting the continuity of the royal dynasty. Charles VIII and Louis XII each added more manuscripts as well as the first printed books to the archive. The collection was never again to be dispersed.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France Richelieu
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Richelieu

On the 28th of December 1537, the king introduced a new principle by royal decree, whereby all printers and booksellers were ordered to deposit copies of any printed book put on sale in the kingdom with the Château de Blois library. This obligation was known as the “Depot Légal” and its creation marks a fundamental date in the history of the library. Even though the decree was by no means uniformly enforced in the early stages, it marks an important date in French history.

The Bibliotheque was moved several times. First to Amboise and then to Blois and later to Fontainebleau. In the second half of the 16th century, the library was transferred to Paris. An inventory at the time listed just 4,712 manuscripts and printed works.

The Bibliotheque Nationale de France Today

The Bibliotheque Nationale de France is at the core of an exchange and cooperation network that includes libraries and research centers all over the world. In 1988, ground broke on a new site for the library in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. The much larger new building contains 3,600 reading units.

Since 1992, the submission of computerized and multi-media documents has also been required.

Significant Works

  • About 12 millions books, among them two copies of Gutenberg Bible
  • The world’s largest collection of geographical maps
  • The richest collection of engravings (12 million) and photos (2 million). 
  • 250,000 manuscripts including the Dead Sea Papyrus and medieval psalm books.
  • Painted works such as the Carolus Magnus and Louis IX’s private collections.
  • Over 600,000 coins, medals and antiquities.

Visitor Hours
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 6 p.m.

 Quai Francois-Mauriac 75013

line 14, Grande Bibiliothèque, line 6, “Quai de la Gare” 
 62, 89.

 For more information about the Bibliotheque Nationale de France visit the library’s official website.

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