French National Library


August 13, 2022

The National Library of France (BnF) is the national library of France. As a library with the right of compulsory copying since 1537, it is the most important library institution in France and one of the leading libraries in the world. In its collections, the origins of which go back to the royal library at the end of the Middle Ages, it preserves around 14 million books and prints as well as many other objects. The library has the status of a public institution.


The library is located in several locations, the largest of which is the central building built at the initiative of President François Mitterrand in the 13th arrondissement in Paris on the left bank of the Seine River (Quai François-Mauriac). It is called Site Tolbiac or Site François-Mitterand. It was built according to a design by Dominique Perrault and has the form of four towers with an L-shaped ground plan that resemble open books and surround a rectangular central area. Its total area is 365,178 m2 and usable area is 224,247 m2. The historic 17th-century site of the library, called Site Richelieu, is located in the 2nd arrondissement in a complex of several palaces between Rue de Richelieu, where the main entrance is located, Rue Vivienne, Rue des Petits-Champs and Rue Colbert. Outside the capital, the library has other locations in Avignon (Art and Theater Department), Bussy-Saint-Georges (Technology Center) and Sablé-sur-Sarthe (Conservation and Digitization Center).

Collections and activity

The library is divided into 14 departments and several collections, kept mainly in four locations in Paris. The library also operates the Gallica digital library, which makes available more than 1,800,000 text, image or audio documents. The library holds 14 million books and prints (10 million in Tolbiac), of which over 12,000 are originals, and its collections are enriched annually by approximately 150,000 volumes of compulsory copies and purchases. In addition to printed books, its collections include several million periodicals, approximately 250,000 manuscripts, of which 20,000 are illuminated (making it the world's largest library in this field), maps, engravings, photographs, musical scores, coins and medals, audio documents, videos , multimedia, digital databases, art objects, etc. Most of the data is made available online in the central catalog and in specialized catalogs. The François-Mitterrand site is also in charge of collecting French radio and television works. In addition to collection, preservation (conservation, restoration), the library's task is also research and educational activity. Therefore, every year the library organizes exhibitions for the public, scientific conferences and lectures, and cultural events such as concerts, etc.


The National Library has its origins in the Royal Library, which was founded in 1368 by the French King Charles V, nicknamed the Wise, in the Louvre in the Fauconnerie tower. Its inventory, taken by the first royal librarian Gilles Mallet, contained 917 manuscripts. During the reign of Charles VI. (1380–1422) the library was stripped of some manuscripts and even disappeared during the English rule after the king's death. While Charles VII. (1422–1461) fled to Bourges, the remains of the library were purchased in 1424 for £1,220 by John of Lancaster, and after his death in 1435 the books were dispersed. Of the 100 volumes, 60 were found again and are now stored in the manuscripts department. Only from the reign of Louis XI. (1461–1483) the royal library maintained continuity without dispersing the collections. The library was temporarily transferred to the castle of Amboise during the reign of Charles VIII. (1483–1498), then to the castle of Blois under Louis XII. (1498–1515) who gave it real importance when he annexed to it the library of the King of Aragon in Naples and manuscripts from the Milanese library of the Visconti and Sforza families. In 1544 it was connected with the library n