The Biggest Libraries in Europe

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Editorial credit: gary yim /
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Editorial credit: gary yim /

With the techonological advancements and the growing popularity of online services, most people can access educational and research material at the click of the button. It may seem like the culture of visiting libraries seems to be dying slowly with the emergence of e-books and e-libraries. However, some of Europe’s top libraries are not only a reserve for bookworms but are magnificent places to behold and visit. From Germany’s futuristic Stuttgart City Library to France's ancient St. Genevieve Library, the libraries are stocked with hundreds of thousands of books of different collections. Here are Europe’s ten largest libraries.

10. National Library of Sweden

The National Library of Sweden is Sweden’s national library. It is charged with the responsibility of collecting and preserving all the domestic publication material in Swedish and other overseas printed contents associated with Swedish. The National Library of Sweden is a research library and has other collections of items in other languages. The library has a catalog of over 18 million items including journals, books, newspapers, and audio-visuals. The library was established in 1661 to collect all printed items in Swedish.

9. Berlin State Library

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The Berlin State Library is located in Berlin, Germany. It is a universal library owned by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. Berlin State Library is one of Europe’s largest libraries and an important academic research centers in the German-speaking world. The library has a collection of over 23 million items including cultural works, media, and texts covering all languages from all the countries of the world. The Berlin State Library has lived through most of German’s history with its founding dating back to 1658. It was badly damaged during the Nazi period but was rebuilt from the mid-20th century.

8. Biblioteca Nacional de España

The Biblioteca Nacional de España is a public library and the largest library in Spain. The library is situated in Paseo de Recoletos, Madrid. The library has a collection of over 31 million items including books, manuscripts, and newspapers. It also receives copies of all the publications in Spain. Biblioteca Nacional de España was established in 1712 by King Philip V as a public library for the palace. Today, it is the highest library institution in Spain and heads the Spanish Library System. It is responsible for the preservation, conservation, and dissemination of information about the country’s heritage.

7. Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a state-owned library located in Vasilievsky Island, St. Petersburg. It was founded in 1714 through a decree of Peter I. The Library is opened to scholars with higher education and staff of the Russian Academy of Science. The library was destroyed and greatly damaged by fire in February 1988. Prior to the fire, the library and its subordinates had a collection of over 17 million items. Currently, the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences boasts of a collection of 26.5 million items.

6. German National Library

The German National Library is Germany’s archival library and national bibliographic center. It was tasked with collecting, permanent archiving, documenting, and recording bibliographically both the German and German-language publications as well as all the foreign publications about the country and the translation of German works. The German National Library has a collection of 32.7 million items in its two centers in Leipzig and Frankfurt. The library was established in 1912 in Leipzig and systematic collection of German publications began in January 1913. Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Deutsche Bibliothek Frankfurt am Main and Deutsche Bücherei Leipzig was merged to form one institution.

5. Royal Danish Library

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The Royal Danish Library was formed through the merger of State and University Library and Royal Library in Aarhus and Copenhagen respectively. Also known as the Black Diamond because of its granite accent, the library has an ultramodern appearance and unique interior. The library is designed to appeal to the younger generation. It allows visitors to enjoy more than just one type of art. The Royal Danish Library has a collection of over 35.4 million collections and a staff of 610. The library receives over 1.2 million visitors every year. Like other national libraries, the Royal Danish Library receives copies of items published in the country and those published overseas but circulated in the country.

4. National Library of Russia

National Library of Russia was the first library in Russia and also the country’s first national library. Originally known as the Imperial Public Library, it was founded in 1795. The National Library of Russia has a collection of 36.5 million items and receives over one million visitors per year. It began a digitization project towards the end of the 20th century and by 2012, it had over 80,000 items available electronically.

3. Bibliothèque nationale de France

Situated in Paris, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, is France's national library. It is the country’s repository of all publications in the country and has an extensive collection of historical items. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France was established in 1461 and over the decades expanded its collections. It was the largest library in the world at some point. The library has over 40 million cataloged items. Its manuscript department holds the largest collection of both medieval and modern items in the world. The digital library, known as Gallica, was established in 1997 and by 2017 it had made available over 4 million documents and 500,000 books.

2. Russian State Library

The Russian State Library is Russia’s national library. Situated in Moscow, it is the country’s largest library and the fourth largest in the world by cataloged items. The library has a collection of 17.5 million books and over 275 kilometers of shelves with over 43 million items. The items include journals, books, maps, and music scores and records. The items are in 247 languages. The library gets a copy of books published in Russia, with the law mandating the library to hold a copy of every publication issued in the country. Russian State Library was founded in July 1862 as a free public library.

1. British Library

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The British Library is the UK’s national library and the world’s largest library by cataloged items. The library holds a collection of approximately 170 million items from different countries. It has copies of all publications made in the UK and Ireland as well as the documents produced overseas and distributed in the UK. The items are often in different languages and format, printed and digital. It adds approximately 3 million items every year which occupies 6 miles of new shelf space. The library can accommodate over 1,200 readers at once.


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