A national library is a library established by a government as a country's preeminent repository of information. Unlike public libraries, these rarely allow citizens to borrow books. Often, they include numerous rare, valuable, or significant works. A national library is that library which has the duty of collecting and preserving the literature of the nation within and outside the country. Thus, national libraries are those libraries whose community is the nation at large. Examples include the British Library, and the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris.
Many national libraries cooperate within the National Libraries Section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to discuss their common tasks, define and promote common standards and carry out projects helping them to fulfill their duties. National libraries of Europe participate in The European Library. This is a service of The Conference of European National Librarians (CENL).
One of the first plans for a national library was devised by the English mathematician John Dee, who in 1556 presented Mary I of England with a visionary plan for the preservation of old books, manuscripts and records and the founding of a national library, but his proposal was not taken up.
Sloane's collection included some 40,000 printed books and 7,000 manuscripts, as well as prints and drawings. The British Museum Act 1753 also incorporated the Cotton library and the Harleian library. These were joined in 1757 by the Royal Library, assembled by various British monarchs.
Anthony Panizzi became the Principal Librarian at the British Museum in 1856, where he oversaw its modernization. During his tenure, the library's holdings increased from 235,000 to 540,000 volumes, making it the largest library in the world at the time. Its famous circular Reading Room was opened in 1857. Panizzi undertook the creation of a new catalogue, based on the "Ninety-One Cataloguing Rules" (1841) which he devised with his assistants. These rules served as the basis for all subsequent catalogue rules of the 19th and 20th centuries, and are at the origins of the ISBD and of digital cataloguing elements such as Dublin Core.
The library's collections swelled to over 300,000 volumes during the radical phase of the French Revolution when the private libraries of aristocrats and clergy were seized. After the establishment of the French First Republic in September 1792, "the Assembly declared the Bibliotheque du Roi to be national property and the institution was renamed the Bibliotheque Nationale. After four centuries of control by the Crown, this great library now became the property of the French people.
Although Germany was only constituted as a state in 1871, the first national library was set up in the context of the German revolutions of 1848. Various booksellers and publishers offered their works to the Frankfurt Parliament for a parliamentary library. The library, led by Johann Heinrich Plath, was termed the Reichsbibliothek ("Reich library"). After the failure of the revolution the library was abandoned and the stock of books already in existence was stored at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. In 1912, the town of Leipzig, seat of the annual Leipzig Book Fair, the Kingdom of Saxony and the Borsenverein der Deutschen Buchhandler (Association of German booksellers) agreed to found a German National Library in Leipzig. Starting January 1, 1913, all publications in German were systematically collected (including books from Austria and Switzerland).
In the Republic of Ireland, the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 specifies that one copy of every book published is to be delivered to the National Library of Ireland, the Trinity College Library, Dublin, the library of the University of Limerick, the library of Dublin City University, and the British Library. Four copies are to be delivered to the National University of Ireland for distribution to its constituent universities. Further, on demand in writing within twelve months of publication a copy is to be delivered to the Bodleian Library, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, and the National Library of Wales.
In Singapore, the National Library Board Act requires all publishers in Singapore to deposit two copies of every publication to the National Library Board at their own expense within four weeks from the publication date.
The first part of the goal is usually achieved through the means of legal deposit laws or (as is the case of the United States) by a host of different programs such as a cataloguing in publication service. By this service, the Library of Congress gives a complete catalogue entry of a book to any publisher who sends a final draft or some form of galley proof of a book currently in production. Other national libraries offer similar services or enforce mandatory practices similar to this.