Different libraries around the world: national library

For the first special focus in our discussion topic around different types of libraries, we’re going to start big, with national libraries.

"India Education" by Avrajyoti Mitra - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

National Library of India – “India Education” by Avrajyoti Mitra – Flickr. Licensed under CC via Wikimedia Commons

National libraries are seen as the library of the country – so Britain has  the British Library, Brazil has the National Library of Brazil, and Bhutan has the National Library of Bhutan.

National libraries are funded by the government, and usually have a remit to be open and accessible to all citizens of that country. Their role is often governed by legislation, which imposes responsibilities on the library to collect and house certain types of material. National libraries may also be responsible for developing and maintaining standards such as cataloguing and library management standards, or even a catalogue of the holdings of other libraries in their country. They are often seen as the natural leaders for national library advocacy, and may also serve as an information or even funding source for other libraries and librarians in that country. National libraries have a wide range of responsibilities!

National libraries have some particular challenges. Being government funded, and seen as representative of the country they are based in, they may find themselves affected by government trends such as austerity, corruption, or propaganda. During times of civil strife or war, national libraries can be a target, as they are seen as representing a cultural history of a nation, or even just a vulnerable store of valuable material. In 2013 IFLA republished an interview with Saad Eskander, Director of Iraq National Library and Archives, about the destruction wrought on the library in 2003 and the efforts to rebuild. These times can also bring out the best in people, as seen in the citizens of Alexandria standing in protection of their library during the 2011 anti-government protests in Egypt.

National libraries are often large, but only so in relation to other libraries in that country: the Public and National Library of Greenland is small when compared to the Library of Congress (the defacto national library of the United States). As national libraries are seen to represent the country, they can display stunning architecture, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which rises out of the sea like a sun, the newly-constructed National Library of Latvia, or the versatile electronic façade of the National Library of Belarus.

  • What is the national library for your country? Where is it? Do you ever visit your national library?
  • What do you think would be different about working in a national library? What would be the same as in your workplace?

Feel free to share these questions with your ILN partner and via our Twitter and Facebook streams. We’d love to learn more about the national library in your country!

Further resources:

National Library Week (United States) – 12-18 April 2015

National Libraries Day (United Kingdom) – 7 February 2015

IFLA National Libraries Section

List of national and state libraries

List of destroyed libraries

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2015A and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. The National Library in Brazil is located far from where I reside. I work in a small library compare with the national library. What’s similar is that we have a responsibility to preserve the memory of bibliographic production.

  2. National libraries in African countries are still very far in comparrison to British. More input has to be done

  3. The national library of my country is National Library of Nigeria. Its headquarters is located in Abuja with branches in about 21 states capitals of the Federation. I am one of the staff at the headquarters

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