The National Library of Poland was established under the Decree of the President of the Republic of Poland of February 24th, 1928.
The National Library of Poland continues the tradition of the Załuski Library of the Commonwealth, set up in Warsaw by the Załuski brothers, Józef Andrzej and Andrzej Stanisław, both of whom were bishops. That Library opened to the public in 1747. It was one of the first libraries in the world intended to fulfill the tasks of a modern library through developing collections that cover the entire body of Polish literature and through making those works accessible to the public. In 1780 the Polish Parliament [the Sejm] granted the Library the right to receive a free legal deposit copy of every book printed in the country.
After Warsaw was invaded by Russian troops in 1794, the collections of the library were taken as war booty to St. Petersburg where they formed the core of the newly founded Imperial Library. The collections taken to Russia numbered 394,150 volumes, including about 11,000 manuscripts and over 24,500 etchings. After Poland was partitioned in three, the idea of a national library was continued by other book repositories, and primarily by foundation libraries of Polish aristocratic families who – beside collecting national literature – also made efforts to acquire and protect other memorabilia of national heritage. Many treasures of national literature held in foundation libraries were later incorporated in the National Library’s collections, the construction of which began immediately after Poland had regained independence in 1918.
The reconstituted holdings of the National Library of Poland included the collections of the Załuski Library previously taken to Russia and restituted from the Soviet Union over the period of 1923–1935, as well as the collections of other Warsaw-based libraries and the collections from Rapperswil and Paris created by Polish émigré communities and transferred to Poland.
During World War II the most valuable part of the National Library’s holdings – almost 800,000 registered items – were lost forever. The Library’s special collection was almost completely destroyed, including ca. 50,000 manuscripts, 2,500 incunabula, 80,000 early printed books, and 100,000 drawings and engravings. The few most precious treasures evacuated to Canada survived the ravages of war: this included the earliest manuscript records in the Polish language: the mid-14th-century Kazania świętokrzyskie [The Holy Cross Sermons] and the late-14th-century Psałterz floriański [Psalterium trilingue – The Sankt Florian Psalter].