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The French National Library – Pic of the Week

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The following is a guest post from Nicolas Boring, foreign law specialist covering French speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress.

I recently went back to Paris for a few days and took that opportunity to visit the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), the French national library.  Specifically, I went to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand (François Mitterrand Library), the BNF’s main location.  The BNF has several branches, spread out over Paris: the historical Richelieu-Louvois Library, located a few blocks north of the Louvres, the Arsenal Library, the Opera Library, and the François Mitterrand Library.  The latter is the largest site and where most of the collection is housed.

Panorama of the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand showing three of the four buildings that look like open books standing to form four corners of a large rectangle
Panorama of the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand / Photograph by Nicolas Boring

The BNF, in its current form, was established by presidential decree in 1994 (Décret No. 94-3 du 3 janvier 1994 portant création de la Bibliothèque nationale de France [Decree No. 94-3 of 3 January 1994 for the Creation of the National Library of France]).  But its history dates back to the Middle Ages, as the BNF is the direct descendant of the Royal Library created by King Charles V of France in the 14th century.  The Library’s collection got a huge boost in 1537, when King Francis I decreed that all publishers should henceforth submit a copy of every book printed and sold in the kingdom.  This mandate, called legal deposit (dépôt légal in French), is still in effect under articles L131-1 and L131-2 of the Code du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Code).

In contrast to the other branches of the BNF, which are all located within older historical buildings, the François Mitterrand Library is decidedly modern.  It was designed and built in the late 1980s and early 1990s under the auspices of then-President François Mitterrand, after whom the building is named.  Unfortunately, he did not live to see the opening of this project; he died in January 1996, and the François Mitterrand Library first opened to the public in December of 1996.

The monumental building spreads out over a large area, which made it impossible for me to capture the entire building in one picture.  Fortunately, I was able to take a picture of an scaled-down model displayed inside.  The model gives you a good perspective of the general layout.  The building rises around a very attractive garden, which features a variety of tall trees and bushes. There are high angular towers at each corner, which from a distance look like giant open books.   (At least they look that way to me.)  As the BNF website describes it: “The main features of the building’s architecture are as follows: symmetry, light, balance, monumentality. The architect has decided to use glass, steel, and wood rather than other materials.”  The site has earned its place among Paris’s landmarks, and is well worth the visit for both bibliophiles and aficionados of modern architecture.

A small model of the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand inside a glass case
Model  of Bibliothèque François Mitterrand / Photograph by Nicolas Boring


  1. Unfortunately it must be pointed out that access to this library is not free. One has to pay.

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