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History

The National Library was established under the Decree of the President of the Republic of Poland of February 24, 1928.

The National Library 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 in developing collections covering the entire body of Polish literature and 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 the national library was cultivated by other book repositories, and primarily by foundation libraries of Polish aristocratic families who – beside national literature – also made efforts to collect 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 building of which began immediately after Poland regained independence in 1918.

The reconstituted holdings of the National Library 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 – was 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].

Contact us
e-mail: biblnar@bn.org.pl
tel.: (+48 22) 608 29 99, (+48 22) 452 29 99
Warszawa, al. Niepodległości 213
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