Bibliothèque nationale de France

Last updated

National Library of France
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Logo BnF.svg
Bibliotheque Mitterrand Mai 2022.jpg
La salle ovale du site Richelieu, Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris 2022.jpg
Bibliotheque nationale de France
Location Paris, France
Established1461;563 years ago (1461) [1]
Items collected Books, journals, newspapers, magazines, sound and music recordings, patents, databases, maps, stamps, prints, drawings and manuscripts
Size42M items
including 16M books, 410,000 journals, 950,000 maps, 2M music sheets. 48B web archives equivalent to 1,800 terabytes [2]
Access and use
Access requirementsOpen to anyone with a need to use the collections and services
Other information
Budget€254 million [2]
Director Laurence Engel
Website (in French)

The Bibliothèque nationale de France (French: [biblijɔtɛknɑsjɔnalfʁɑ̃s] ; 'National Library of France'; BnF) is the national library of France, located in Paris on two main sites known respectively as Richelieu and François-Mitterrand. It is the national repository of all that is published in France. Some of its extensive collections, including books and manuscripts but also precious objects and artworks, are on display at the BnF Museum (formerly known as the Cabinet des Médailles) on the Richelieu site.


The National Library of France is a public establishment under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. Its mission is to constitute collections, especially the copies of works published in France that must, by law, be deposited there, conserve them, and make them available to the public. It produces a reference catalogue, cooperates with other national and international establishments, as well as participates in research programs.


The National Library of France traces its origin to the royal library founded at the Louvre Palace by Charles V in 1368. Charles had received a collection of manuscripts from his predecessor, John II, and transferred them to the Louvre from the Palais de la Cité. The first librarian of record was Claude Mallet, the king's valet de chambre, who made a sort of catalogue, Inventoire des Livres du Roy nostre Seigneur estans au Chastel du Louvre. Jean Blanchet made another list in 1380 and Jean de Bégue one in 1411 and another in 1424. Charles V was a patron of learning and encouraged the making and collection of books. It is known that he employed Nicholas Oresme, Raoul de Presles (conseiller de Charles V)  [ fr ], and others to transcribe ancient texts. At the death of Charles VI, this first collection was unilaterally bought by the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford, who transferred it to England in 1424. It was apparently dispersed at his death in 1435. [3] [4] [5]

Charles VII did little to repair the loss of these books, but the invention of printing resulted in the starting of another collection in the Louvre inherited by Louis XI in 1461. Charles VIII seized a part of the collection of the kings of Aragon. [6] Louis XII, who had inherited the library at Blois, incorporated the latter into the Bibliothèque du Roi and further enriched it with the Gruthuyse collection and with plunder from Milan. Francis I transferred the collection in 1534 to Fontainebleau and merged it with his private library. During his reign, fine bindings became the craze and many of the books added by him and Henry II are masterpieces of the binder's art. [4]

Under librarianship of Jacques Amyot, the collection was transferred to Paris and then relocated on several occasions, a process during which many treasures were lost.[ citation needed ] Henry IV had it moved to the Collège de Clermont in 1595, a year after the expulsion of the Jesuits from their establishment. In 1604, the Jesuits were allowed to return and the collection was moved to the Cordeliers Convent, then in 1622 to the nearby Confrérie de Saint-Côme et de Saint-Damien  [ fr ] on the rue de la Harpe. The appointment of Jacques Auguste de Thou as librarian initiated a period of development that made it the largest and richest collection of books in the world. He was succeeded by his son who was replaced, when executed for treason, by Jérôme Bignon, the first of a line of librarians of the same name. Under de Thou, the library was enriched by the collections of Queen Catherine de Medici. The library grew rapidly during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, due in great part to the interest of Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, himself a dedicated collector of books. [4]

The site in the Rue de la Harpe becoming inadequate, the library was again moved, in 1666, to two adjacent houses in Rue Vivienne. After Colbert, Louis XIV's minister Louvois also took interest in the library and employed Jean Mabillon, Melchisédech Thévenot, and others to procure books from every source. In 1688, a catalogue in eight volumes was compiled. [4] Louvois considered the erection of an opulent building to host it on what would become the Place Vendôme, a project that was however left unexecuted following the minister's death in 1691.

The library opened to the public in 1692, under the administration of Abbott Camille le Tellier de Louvois, the minister's son. The Abbé Louvois was succeeded by Jean-Paul Bignon, who in 1721 seized the opportunity of the collapse of John Law's Mississippi Company. The company had been relocated by Law into the former palace of Cardinal Mazarin around Hôtel Tubeuf, and its failure freed significant space in which the Library would expand (even though the Hotel Tubeuf itself would remain occupied by French East India Company and later by France's financial bureaucracy until the 1820s. Bignon also instituted a complete reform of the library's system. Catalogues were made which appeared from 1739 to 1753 in 11 volumes. The collections increased steadily by purchase and gift to the outbreak of the French Revolution, at which time it was in grave danger of partial or total destruction, but owing to the activities of Antoine-Augustin Renouard and Joseph Van Praet it suffered no injury. [4]

The library's collections swelled to over 300,000 volumes during the radical phase of the French Revolution when the private libraries of aristocrats and clergy were seized. After the establishment of the French First Republic in September 1792, "the Assembly declared the Bibliothèque du Roi to be national property and the institution was renamed the Bibliothèque Nationale. After four centuries of control by the Crown, this great library now became the property of the French people." [3]

Reading room, Richelieu site France, Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France, site Richelieu, salle ovale.jpg
Reading room, Richelieu site

A new administrative organization was established. Napoleon took great interest in the library and among other things issued an order that all books in provincial libraries not possessed by the Bibliothèque Nationale should be forwarded to it, subject to replacement by exchanges of equal value from the duplicate collections, making it possible, as Napoleon said, to find a copy of any book in France in the National Library. Napoleon furthermore increased the collections by spoil from his conquests. A considerable number of these books were restored after his downfall. During the period from 1800 to 1836, the library was virtually under the control of Joseph Van Praet. At his death it contained more than 650,000 printed books and some 80,000 manuscripts. [4]

Following a series of regime changes in France, it became the Imperial National Library and in 1868 was moved to newly constructed buildings on the Rue de Richelieu designed by Henri Labrouste. Upon Labrouste's death in 1875 the library was further expanded, including the grand staircase and the Oval Room, by academic architect Jean-Louis Pascal. In 1896, the library was still the largest repository of books in the world, although it has since been surpassed by other libraries for that title. [7] By 1920, the library's collection had grown to 4,050,000 volumes and 11,000 manuscripts. [4]

In 2024, the library removed four 19th century books from its public access, namely two volumes of The Ballads of Ireland published in 1855, a bilingual anthology of Romanian poetry dating from 1856, and book of the Royal Horticultural Society published between 1862 and 1863, after tests indicated that their covers and bindings were colored using green pigments containing arsenic. [8]

Richelieu site

The Richelieu site occupies a full city block in Paris, surrounded by rue de Richelieu (west), rue des Petits-Champs (south), rue Vivienne  [ fr ] (east), and rue Colbert  [ fr ] (north). There are two entrances, respectively on 58, rue de Richelieu and 5, rue Vivienne. This site was the main location of the library for 275 years, from 1721 to 1996. It now hosts the BnF Museum as well as facilities of the BnF, the library of the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art (in the Saller Labrouste since 2016), and the library of the École Nationale des Chartes. It was comprehensively renovated in the 2010s and early 2020s on a design by architects Bruno Gaudin  [ fr ] and Virginie Brégal.

François-Mitterrand site

View of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
, Francois-Mitterrand site Paris 13e BNF Site Francois-Mitterrand 746.jpg
View of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, François-Mitterrand site

On 14 July 1988, President François Mitterrand announced "the construction and the expansion of one of the largest and most modern libraries in the world, intended to cover all fields of knowledge, and designed to be accessible to all, using the most modern data transfer technologies, which could be consulted from a distance, and which would collaborate with other European libraries". Due to initial trade union opposition, a wireless network was fully installed only in August 2016.

In July 1989, the services of the architectural firm of Dominique Perrault were retained. The design was recognized with the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 1996. The construction was carried out by Bouygues. [9] Construction of the library ran into huge cost overruns and technical difficulties related to its high-rise design, so much so that it was referred to as the "TGB" or "Très Grande Bibliothèque" (i.e. "Very Large Library", a sarcastic allusion to France's successful high-speed rail system, the TGV). [10] After the move of the major collections from the Rue de Richelieu, the National Library of France was inaugurated on 15 December 1996. [11]

As of 2016, the BnF contained roughly 14 million books at its four Parisian sites (Tolbiac, i.e. Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand, and Richelieu, Arsenal and Opéra) as well as printed documents, manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps and plans, scores, coins, medals, sound documents, video and multimedia documents, scenery elements..." [12] The library retains the use of the Rue de Richelieu complex for some of its collections.

Plan of the Bibliotheque Francois-Mitterrand Plan de la Bibliotheque Francois-Mitterrand, Haut-de-jardin et Rez-de-jardin.svg
Plan of the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand
Located near the Métro station:  Bibliothèque François Mitterrand .

Manuscript collection

The Manuscripts department houses the largest collection of medieval and modern manuscripts worldwide. The collection includes medieval chansons de geste and chivalric romances, eastern literature, eastern and western religions, ancient history, scientific history, and literary manuscripts by Pascal, Diderot, Apollinaire, Proust, Colette, Sartre, etc. The collection is organised:

Digital library

Gallica [14] is the digital library for online users of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and its partners. It was established in October 1997. Today it has more than six million digitized materials of various types: books, magazines, newspapers, photographs, cartoons, drawings, prints, posters, maps, manuscripts, antique coins, scores, theater costumes and sets, audio and video materials. All library materials are freely available.

On 10 February 2010, a digitized copy of Scenes of Bohemian Life by Henri Murger (1913) became Gallica's millionth document. And in February 2019, the five millionth document was a copy of the manuscript "Record of an Unsuccessful Trip to the West Indies" stored in the Bibliothèque Inguimbertine.

As of 1 January 2020, Gallica had made available online approximately:

Most of Gallica's collections have been converted into text format using optical character recognition (OCR-processing), which allows full-text search in the library materials.

Each document has a digital identifier, the so-called ARK (Archival Resource Key) of the National Library of France and is accompanied by a bibliographic description.

List of directors



Notable patrons

Raoul Rigault, leader during the Paris Commune, was known for habitually occupying the library and reading endless copies of the newspaper Le Père Duchesne . [15]

Alain Resnais directed Toute la mémoire du monde (transl.All the Memory in the World), a 1956 short film about the library and its collections.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henri Labrouste</span> French architect

Pierre-François-Henri Labrouste was a French architect from the famous École des Beaux-Arts school of architecture. After a six-year stay in Rome, Labrouste established an architectural training workshop, which soon became known for rationalism. He became noted for his use of iron-frame construction and was one of the first to realize the importance of its use.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sainte-Geneviève Library</span> Library in Paris

Sainte-Geneviève Library is a university library of the Sorbonne-Nouvelle public liberal arts and humanities university, located at 10, place du Panthéon, across the square from the Panthéon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

<i>Guirlande de Julie</i>

The Guirlande de Julie is a unique French manuscript of sixty-one madrigaux, illustrated with painted flowers, and composed by several poets habitués of the Hôtel de Rambouillet for Julie d'Angennes and given to her on her name day in May 1641. The 1641 manuscript was bought by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1989 and is now kept in the Département des Manuscrits of the BnF.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Académie Nationale de Médecine</span> French organization

Situated at 16 Rue Bonaparte in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, the Académie nationale de médecine was created in 1820 by King Louis XVIII at the urging of baron Antoine Portal. At its inception, the institution was known as the Académie royale de médecine. This academy was endowed with the legal status of two institutions which preceded it—the Académie royale de chirurgie, which was created in 1731 and of the Société royale de médecine, which was created in 1776.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jean Marchand (painter)</span> French painter

Jean Hippolyte Marchand was a French cubist painter, printmaker and illustrator with an association with figures of the Bloomsbury Group.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BnF Museum</span> Department of the National Library of France tasked with historical artifacts

The BnF Museum or Museum of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, formerly known as the Cabinet des Médailles, is a significant art and history museum in Paris. It displays collections of the Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France as well as manuscripts and books from the Library's collections. The BnF Museum is located in the Richelieu site, the former main building of the library bordering rue de Richelieu.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bibliothèque Mazarine</span> Library at the Institute of France in Paris

The Bibliothèque Mazarine, or Mazarin Library, is located within the Palais de l'institut de France, or the Palace of the Institute of France, at 23 quai de Conti in the 6th arrondissement, on the Left Bank of the Seine facing the Pont des Arts and the Louvre. Originally created by Cardinal Mazarin as his personal library in the 17th century, it today has one of the richest collections of rare books and manuscripts in France, and is the oldest public library in the country.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">École Nationale des Chartes</span>

The École Nationale des Chartes is a French grande école and a constituent college of Université PSL, specialising in the historical sciences. It was founded in 1821, and was located initially at the National Archives, and later at the Palais de la Sorbonne. In October 2014, it moved to 65 rue de Richelieu, opposite the Richelieu-Louvois site of the National Library of France. The school is administered by the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research. It holds the status of a grand établissement. Its students, who are recruited by competitive examination and hold the status of trainee civil servant, receive the qualification of archivist-paleographer after completing a thesis. They generally go on to pursue careers as heritage curators in the archive and visual fields, as library curators or as lecturers and researchers in the human and social sciences. In 2005, the school also introduced master's degrees, for which students were recruited based on an application file, and, in 2011, doctorates.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rue de Richelieu</span> Street in Paris, France

The Rue de Richelieu is a long street of Paris, starting in the south of the 1st arrondissement at the Comédie-Française and ending in the north of the 2nd arrondissement. For the first half of the 19th century, before Georges-Eugène Haussmann redefined Paris with grand boulevards, it was one of the most fashionable streets of Paris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bedford Master</span> French painter

The Bedford Master was a manuscript illuminator active in Paris during the fifteenth century. He is named for the work he did on two books illustrated for John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford between 1415 and 1435. One is the Bedford Hours, a book of hours in the British Library ; the other, the Salisbury Breviary, is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Another manuscript is in the Royal Collection. The Bedford Master is known to have been the head of a workshop; his chief assistant is known as the Chief Associate of the Bedford Master.

<i>Fontaine Louvois</i> Fountain in Paris, France

The Fontaine Louvois is a monumental public fountain in Square Louvois on the rue Richelieu in the Second Arrondissement of Paris, near the entrance of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It was built between 1836 and 1839 during the reign of King Louis-Philippe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">IN Group</span>

IN Group is a French company specialized in the production of secure documents such as identity cards and passports, which it designs and sells to various governments and companies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hôtel Tubeuf</span> Hôtel particulier in Paris, France

The Hôtel Tubeuf or Hôtel Duret-de-Chevry is a hôtel particulier located at 8 Rue des Petits Champs in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. It was built in 1635 to the designs of the French architect Jean Thiriot for Charles Duret de Chevry, president of the Chambre des Comptes. It was unfinished, when in 1641 it was purchased by the financier Jacques Tubeuf, who sold it to Cardinal Mazarin in 1649. The latter expanded it and combined it with adjacent hôtels, creating the Palais Mazarin, which in 1721 became the Bibliothèque du Roi. The Hôtel Tubeuf is now part of the complex of buildings forming the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and was declared a monument historique in 1983.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Libraries in Paris</span>

Paris, the capital of France, has many of the country's most important libraries. The Bibliothèque nationale de France operates public libraries in Paris, among them the François-Mitterrand, Richelieu, Louvois, Opéra, and Arsenal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henriette Tirman</span> French painter and printmaker

Jeanne-Henriette Tirman was a French woman painter and printmaker.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art</span>

The Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art, commonly abbreviated INHA, is a French research institute, created and governed by Decree No. 2001-621, and situated in Paris. The Institute develops scientific activity and contributes to international cooperation in most fields of art history and heritage by exercising research, training and knowledge-diffusion.

Under the French Ancien Régime, royal censorship was the task of censors appointed by the chancellor to judge the editorial legitimacy of a manuscript and to authorize its publication by an approval they signed.

Jean-Claude Lemagny was a French library curator and historian of photography; a specialist in contemporary photography, he contributed to the world of fine-art photography in several roles.


  1. Jack A. Clarke. "French Libraries in Transition, 1789–95." The Library Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct., 1967)
  2. 1 2 "La BnF en chiffres". Archived from the original on 2023-09-11.
  3. 1 2 Priebe, Paul M. (1982). "From Bibliothèque du Roi to Bibliothèque Nationale: The Creation of a State Library, 1789–1793". The Journal of Library History. 17 (4): 389–408. JSTOR   25541320.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "National Library of France"  . Encyclopedia Americana .
  5. Lombard-Jourdan, Anne (July–December 1981). "A PROPOS DE RAOUL DE PRESLES DOCUMENTS SUR L'HOMME". Bibliothèque de l'École des chartes. 139 (2): 191–207.
  6. Konstantinos Staikos (2012), History of the Library in Western Civilization: From Petrarch to Michelangelo, New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, ISBN   978-1-58456-182-8
  7. Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p.  38.
  8. "French national library quarantines 'poisonous' books". France 24. 25 April 2024.
  9. "Bouygues website: Bibliothèque nationale de France". Archived from the original on November 27, 2006.
  10. Fitchett, Joseph (30 March 1995). "New Paris Library: Visionary or Outdated?". The New York Times . Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  11. Ramsay, Raylene L. (2003). French women in politics: writing power, paternal legitimization, and maternal legacies. Berghahn Books. p. 17. ISBN   978-1-57181-082-3 . Retrieved 21 May 2011.
  12. "Welcome to the BnF". BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France). Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  13. See the Tome III-1 link:ément-grec-n°-1-à-150. The Tome III-2 is not listed on the site. The Tome III-3 link:ément-grec-n°-901-1371
  14. Website link is
  15. Horne, Alistair (1965). The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-1. St. Martin's Press, New York. pp. 29–30.

Further reading

48°50′01″N2°22′33″E / 48.83361°N 2.37583°E / 48.83361; 2.37583