History of the library

Compared to other national libraries, the Swiss National Library (NL) is a relatively young institution. This reality is not only reflected in its collections but also in the building housing the library, which dates back to the 1930s.

The NL was originally set up in 1895 in a small four-room apartment in downtown Bern. The previous year, the Swiss Parliament had determined the library’s mandate: to build a collection of Helvetica publications dating back as far as the creation of the federal state in 1848.

In 1899, as was prescribed in its mandate, the NL became accessible to all Swiss citizens when it moved to new and more spacious quarters thus, giving the public the opportunity to use and consult the library’s collections.

More than a century later, the NL has maintained and developed this service to the public in conditions and in an environment that have greatly evolved.

The turn of the century implicated the modernisation and the automation of the library as well as the complete renovation of the building: most notable among the changes were new book stacks to store the various collections and new public areas.
The two underground stacks are the result of a master plan from 1991 designed to ensure the optimal use of the estate. In addition to creating reserve capacity the intention was also to carefully modernise the library building dating from 1930, which is the only library building in Switzerland in the architectural style "Neues Bauen". In 2001, the renovated building was reopened. Since then the Swiss National Library has been able to offer a modern technical infrastructure in a spacious and partially historical surroundings to its users, and has a reserve storage capacity until around 2038.

The foundation of the Swiss Literary Archives in 1991, the inauguration of the Dürrenmatt Centre in Neuchâtel in 2000, the integration of the Federal Archive for Monument Preservation in 2007 and the integration of the Swiss National Sound Archives in 2016 were further important landmarks in the recent history of the NL.

As for the continuous adaption to the technological innovation in Swiss libraries on the one hand and to the new needs of the public on the other hand, two evolutions in 2010 are remarkable: the closing down of the Swiss Union Catalogue of monographs and the integration of Helveticat, the online catalog of the NL, into the first metacatalogue of the Swiss university libraries and the Swiss National Library.

Last modification 20.04.2017

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