Temple of books: François Mitterrand Library

Sladjana Perkovic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The National Library of France (the Bibliotèque nationale de France – BnF) is the biggest French library and also one of the most important libraries in the world. This library, which has for a mission to keep all the books and documents published in France, has its origins in the French royal library founded in 1368. The activities of this National Library are spread over seven different places, but the main site is the François Mitterrand Library. Situated on the left bank of the River Seine and inaugurated in 1996, this most imposing place includes four towers symbolically representing open books. Today, in this library, you can have access to approximatively 15 million books and documents. This is a place that every bookworm, but also every architecture lover needs to visit.


A monumental building of the François Mitterrand Library, opened in 1996, is a work of Dominique Perrault, a French architect. He imagined it as a perfectly symmetrical, light and balanced place mostly made from steel, glass and wood. Also, he gave to the library a symbolical meaning by creating four large angular towers that represent the open books. Every tower is 79 m high and has 22 floors. The towers are symbolically named: Tower of Time, Tower of Laws, Tower of Numbers and Tower of Letters. Dominique Perrault even won for his work a prestigious Mies van der Rohe price, that is given every two years by the European Union to reward quality contemporary architecture. All the furniture, tables, chairs and lamps, inside the François Mitterrand Library, are designed to give to the library users a necessary calm and concentration. This library also has a garden situated between the towers. It is visible from the entire library but for the security reasons, the access to the garden it is not open to the public.


The François Mitterrand Library has a very impressive collection of documents. It holds some 14 million printed and audio documents and has 385 linear kilometers of shelves that are accessible by the library users. The most intriguing place in the library is the "Reserve of the rare books", that has some 200 000 volumes of books published in Europe before 1501, but also particularly small or large editions, the books that belonged to the famous people and even books that were considered  "obscene". The collection of the François Mitterrand Library is divided into two sections. The first section is the Research Library, which is open only to the accredited users. The access to the second section, the Reference Library, is open to everyone over 16 and with a valid library card. In this section, you can find any book from any field of knowledge. 

Photo Credit © iStockPhoto/theendup

Practical information

The François Mitterrand Library is open every day except on Mondays. However, the library is closed for a whole week every year at the end of August and the begging of September. If you don’t have a library card, you can still visit this place. The price for the visit is three euros, and the guided tours are also available. The entrance for children under 12 is free of charge. 

Photo Credit © iStockPhoto/Nellmac

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