Academic journal article Alexandria

The National Library of Luxembourg

Academic journal article Alexandria

The National Library of Luxembourg

Article excerpt


The origins of the National Library of Luxembourg Bibliothèque nationale de Luxembourg, BnL) date back to 1798. Following the occupation of the Duchy of Luxembourg by French troops in 1794-95, the former duchy was renamed the Département des Forêts (Department of the Forests). Like the other French departments, the Département des Forêts was also home to an Ecole centrale (Central school), a secondary school with a bibliothèque centrale (central library). The latter housed what remained in Luxembourg of the library stocks from the secularized religious institutions and other former institutions of the Ancien Régime. This is the origin of the National Library's most ancient collections, which were to form the core of its 'Fonds ancien' (ancient collection) and Réserve précieuse ('Manuscripts and special collections'). In 1802, however, some of the most prestigious titles - manuscripts from the Benedictine Abbey of Echternach - were moved to the National Library of France.

The history of the National Library of Luxembourg in the 19th century is linked to that of the young Luxembourg state which, upon gaining independence in 1839, gradually developed its institutional apparatus and favoured the formation of a national sentiment that had barely existed before 1839.

After 1815, the city of Luxembourg assumed ownership of the former central library. In 1848 it was reclaimed by the Luxembourg state - under the name of the Bibliothèque de Luxembourg (Library of Luxembourg). The name Bibliothèque nationale (National Library) was only assigned in 1899 following the reinforcement of the national sentiment among the Luxembourgish population. However, its role as encyclopaedic library to the education system seems to have clearly prevailed over its role as a heritage library (Rausch, 1961).

Until the end of the 1960s, the National Library of Luxembourg remained a modest institution with (very) limited funding. The Grand Duchy's small size goes a long way towards explaining this. The Grand Duchy's intellectual output, though vivid and varied, remained by force of circumstance limited in volume. Legal deposit only dates back to 1958. In contrast to the large states for which culture was an instrument of prestige, of recognition and for assuming influence even beyond the national borders, the Luxembourg state, which faced several serious crises of survival between 1839 and 1945, paid scant attention to its cultural institutions. There were no universities and no public research centres in Luxembourg. Nor were the country's social structures, which were long marked by a low rate of urbanization, conducive to the formation of cultural institutions. The country's ruling classes, attracted by the cultures emanating from the neighbouring countries, instead tended to ignore or underestimate the value and interest of the national cultural heritage.

The establishment of the National Library in its current building in 1973, the former Athénée grand-ducal (Athenaeum) located next to the Cathédrale de Luxembourg, which is significantly more spacious and of a better quality than the previous buildings, paradoxically brought to light the imbalance that had gradually developed between the weakness of the system and the needs of civil society. Indeed, the new National Library, which benefited from more consistent means, rapidly experienced impressive and continuous development, driven by the democratization of culture and access to secondary and higher education. New departments were gradually added, including the Réserve précieuse, a national ISBN agency, a music study and document centre, a media library and, most recently, the national ISSN and ISMN (International Standard Music Number) agencies. The collections have developed at an impressive rate since 1973 and the number of readers continues to grow. In 1985, the National Library computerized its bibliographic catalogue with the introduction of the Swiss library management system, SIBIL. …

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