National Libraries

These are libraries owned and operated by the central governments of various countries. They are often massive in size and holdings, and can be quite ornate in design, meant to impress on citizens and foreign countries alike the power and prestige of the national governments. (National libraries reserved for the use of lawmakers are mostly in the Government Law Libraries pages). Most National Libraries are open to the public for visits.




The Library of Congress is the national library of the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and number of books: more than 32 million books in 470 languages, more than 61 million manuscripts and the largest rare book collection in North America. Shown in the photos are the Reading Room and the interior of the Great Hall.



This magnificent space is part of the Austrian National Library, located in the imperial Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Formerly known as the Imperial Library (Hof-Bibliothek), the State Hall ("Prunksaal") is the central architectural piece of the library and features a soaring, ornately-painted cupola. It was built in the 1720s to house the court library and holds about 200,000 books. The hall is divided into two sides: the War and the Peace sides, reflected by the statuary and frescoes.



6403 (BrunoDelzant)

The National Library of the Czech Republic at the Clementinum university complex in Prague.



National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg, Russia.



The Oval Reading Room, Labrouste Reading Room and a stacks area at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. The second room was designed by Henri Labrouste in 1854 and the Oval Reading Room was added in 1875 by Jean-Louis Pascal. The library currently holds 30 million items and was expanded to a newer building in 1996.



The National Library of Brazil (Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil) in Rio de Janeiro, in a magnificent building that opened in 1910. It contains at least 9 million items and is the largest in Latin America.



The National Library of Finland in Helsinki. The library was designed as the Helsinki University Library in 1828 by architect Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840) and the interior was finished in 1848.



The Reading Room at the old British Library. The British Library has now moved to another, larger and new building (as is often the case when collections grew larger than available space), but this room – opened in 1857 and now part of the British Museum – will be remembered by most who grew up in the 20th century as the British Library.

For a fascinating look at one of the British Library's recent acquisitions, the largest book (an atlas) ever published, see this site.


6409 (from a photograph taken by Candida Hofer)

The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) in Leipzig, Germany (there is also another, newer National Library building in Frankfurt). The Leipzig building was designed by architect Oskar Pusch and built in 1914-1916. It contains 14.3 million items.



The National Library of Ireland in Dublin. The building was designed by architect Thomas Newenham Deane around 1877 and holds 8 million items.