Essential Architecture-  Paris

new Bibliothèque nationale de France

  See also Bibliotheque Nationale (old)


Dominique Perrault


Paris, France (located near the metro station: Bibliothèque François Mitterrand).






steel, glass, concrete frame


  Established 1368
Collection size 13 million books and publications[1]
Population served 2,101,816 (Paris)
Budget 155 million €[2]
Director Bruno Racine
Employees 2,700
  The new buildings of the library. Note the L-shaped towers.
  The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, seen from the right bank of the Seine river. On the left side, the Simone-de-Beauvoir footbridge and on the right side the Bercy bridge.
  The tracks to Gare d'Austerlitz (seen here with a suburban train) run south of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) is the National Library of France, located in Paris. It is intended to be the repository of all that is published in France. The current president of the library is Bruno Racine.

The National Library of France traces its origin to the royal library founded at the Louvre by Charles V in 1368. It expanded under Louis XIV and opened to the public in 1692. 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. By an act of the revolutionary French National Assembly, the Library became the first free public library in the world in 1793.

Following the 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.

New buildings

On 14 July 1988, 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. Surprisingly, the library does not maintain a wireless network. In July 1989, the services of the architectural firm of Dominique Perrault were retained. The construction was carried out by Bouygues. After the move of the major collections from the rue de Richelieu, the National Library of France opened to the public on 20 December 1996. It contains more than ten million volumes. Those who work in it are not happy with the extremely long distances they have to walk to reach basic functions. It also features a landscaped garden pit at its center that cannot be enjoyed except with one's eyes, and several of the trees need to be supported with rope to prevent them from falling.

Additionally, despite being a library financed at great cost to the public and located in a neighborhood dominated by social housing, none of the material in the library is accessible by the public without paying a fee. Those wishing to visit the library for a single day will be required to pay a fee of 3.30 Euros. Admission to the reading rooms in the research library is restricted to those over the age of 18 and proof of "academic, professional or personal research activities requiring access to the collection" is required. Readers’ cards are issued "after an individual interview with a librarian."

The library retains the use of the rue de Richelieu complex for some of its collections.


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, and participates in research programs.

In 1997 the digital library was established for online users. As of April 2006, Gallica made available on the Web: 90,000 scanned volumes, 1,200 full-text volumes, 500 audio documents, and 80,000 images.

^ La BnF en chiffres.
^ Les chiffres donnés ici sont ceux du rapport d'activités 2005, le dernier disponible.
^ Bouygues website: Bibliothèque nationale de France
Riding, Alan. "France Detects a Cultural Threat in Google," New York Times. April 11, 2005.