National Library of France


July 6, 2022

The National Library of France (in French Bibliothèque nationale de France), also known by the acronym BnF, is a French public cultural institution: it is one of the most important libraries in France and in the world. It is based in Paris in the 13th arrondissement. The physical collections of the institution are estimated at thirty million volumes, but it is also known for the Gallica digital library, made up mostly of computerized documents in the form of images. Gallica is now evolving with the more demanding Europeana project that also provides books in text format via OCR.


The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) originated from the royal library, established in the Louvre by Charles V. However, only with Charles VIII did the royal library experience a certain managerial and patrimonial stability, without dispersion of funds. The library, first moved to Blois and Fontainebleau, returned to Paris in 1568. A notable boost to its development took place under the reign of Louis XIV, only to be opened to the public in 1692. After numerous removals, the library collection was transferred to the 1720 in rue Richelieu (the current "site Richelieu"). It became the National Library, then Imperial with the various regime changes that followed one another in France starting from 1789, in 1868 it was moved to the buildings built by Henri Labrouste, and then moved definitively in the 1990s to the new site of Tolbiac. The development of the institution is marked by the numerous movements of the collections; the last and most important was accompanied by an expansion of the occupied surfaces, through the construction of new buildings, the annexation of pre-existing structures and, on the other hand, the storage in the subsoil (site Richelieu) or in superelevation (site Tolbiac). Over the centuries, the library has witnessed various technical evolutions, which it has taken into account, sometimes with a certain delay. These evolutions have led to the acquisition of the most disparate documents. Differentiated techniques were also used in the creation of increasingly complex catalogs (manuscripts and printed, cards and, since 1987, computerized catalogs). In the same way its statute has evolved, with the transformation from the library of the sovereign to the service of the state to become an autonomous public institution. The Library has also diversified its business by organizing exhibitions and other cultural events such as conferences. It has also developed cooperation initiatives with other libraries, first within the French network, then abroad. That of the Library is above all a story of successive increases in the collections. The legal deposit, extended over time to different types of documents, is the main source of growth. The BNF has also benefited from numerous bequests, sometimes from individual donations but very often from advanced collections. Exchanges of publications represent another source of increase in the catalog, in particular in the context of foreign publications. Added to this are purchases (new works, but sometimes also auction sales of rare documents). These increases through purchase were more or less significant according to the eras, depending on the credits granted to the Library. The BNF also occasionally benefited from the proceeds of confiscations, particularly during the French Revolution. In this way, the library received entire funds coming mainly from suppressed abbeys, colleges and universities, mostly Parisian. Donations were also made from neighboring countries. Starting from 1988, the National Library enters a phase of important changes. On 14 July François Mitterrand, on the advice of Jacques Attali, announces the construction of one of the largest or the largest and most modern library in the world ... (which) will have to cover all fields of the