The BnF

Arsenal Library

Located in the Bastille district, the Arsenal Library was the former residence of the grand masters of artillery. In 1759, the Marquis de Paulmy starts to build up there a major encyclopaedic library turned into a public library in 1797.
Over one million documents are available: books, magazines, manuscripts, prints, maps and plans, music documents... Since then, the library’s favourite fields of expertise have been literature and history. The library also houses several special collections: the Bastille Archives, the Prosper Enfantin Collection (Saint-Simon movement), the Lambert collection dedicated to Huysmans, the collection of typographer Ladislas Mandel, the archives of Georges Perec or the Oulipo collection.
Tours are organized in the library which received the 'Maison des illustres' label in 2012. Numerous lectures, exhibition or concerts in connection with the collections are proposed to visitors.

Collections of the Arsenal Library

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The Arsenal Library houses the following collections:

  • an old printed books collection (pre-1880) divided into Belles Lettres, History, Theology, Case Law, and Science and Arts
  • a modern printed books collection (post-1880): novels, poetry, illustrated books, precious bindings, etc. 
  • manuscripts:15,000 historical and literary manuscripts from the Middle Ages to contemporary times 
  • a collection of prints: 100,000 prints (portraits, caricatures from the Revolution and the Restoration, city plans and views, important series from the 18th century Italian, German, and English schools, etc.) 
  • handwritten and printed music scores, mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries 
  • cartographic documents: 17 000 views, maps and handwritten or printed plans, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries for the major part of them.
  • a large collection of old reviews, and more than 250 current reviews

7,000 volumes are proposed in free access: catalogues, encyclopaedia, dictionaries, bibliographies and reference documents related to the main subjects considered at the library

Collections on the following topics are available for consultation at the Arsenal Library:

Documents about the following topics are also available:

Specific collections

The richness of the Arsenal Library is also due to its special collections.

Two deposited collections may be consulted by appointment  :

  • Archives of Georges Perec (
  • Archives of the Oulipo (

The 'Métiers du livre' portal

Visuel portail Métiers du Livre
The 'Métiers du livre' portal provides useful information about training and research, book policy, bibliophilia, artist's books, etc. It announces major events concerning book-related careers (symposiums, book fairs, exhibitions) in France and abroad as well as advertisements available on the websites of the numerous public or private stakeholders in the field. Specific pages concern the various professions involved: writers, translators, graphic designers, bookbinders, publishers, etc.

History of the Arsenal Library

Antoine-René de Voyer d´Argenson, Marquis de Paulmy, Minister of State. Portrait in a medallion, drawn by Charles Louis François Le Carpentier (1744-1822 ) and engraved by Augustin de Saint-Aubin (1736-1807 ), 1751.

Antoine-René de Voyer d'Argenson, Marquis de Paulmy, Minister of State. Portrait in a medallion, drawn by Charles Louis François Le Carpentier (1744-1822 ) and engraved by Augustin de Saint-Aubin (1736-1807 ), 1751.

The Arsenal’s collections trace their origins back to the library of Antoine René d’Argenson, Marquis of Paulmy, located in the residence of the Masters of Artillery, in the heart of the former Arsenal de Paris.

Keen to avoid its being broken up, Paulmy sold the library in 1785 to the Count of Artois, Louis XVI’s brother, but retained the right of usufruct and continued to add to it.

Sequestered during the revolution as property belonging to an émigré, the collection remained at the site. As a result of revolutionary confiscations, it was expanded via the addition of many volumes from the main Parisian abbeys and the archives of the Bastille.

Throughout the 19th century, the library’s collections increasingly focused on literature and theater, in particular at the instigation of renowned administrators such as Charles Nodier and José-Maria de Heredia.

Incorporated into the réunion des bibliothèques nationales in 1926, the Arsenal Library was attached to the National Library in 1934 and remains faithful to its literary and bibliophilic tradition, as demonstrated both through its acquisitions and through the literary exhibitions and soirées it organizes.


  • Martin (H.), Catalogue des manuscrits de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, 1899, Volume 8, Histoire de la bibliothèque.
  • Funck-Brentano (F.) and Deslandres (P.), La Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, 1930. 
  • Calot (F.), La Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, 1936. 
  • Trésors de la bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, 1980. 
  • Arts et métiers du livre, no. 206, November/December 1997. 
  • Bulletin du bibliophile, Paris, 2000, no. 2.

Monday, April 18, 2016

See also


The "Plaisirs de l'Arsenal" performance-lecture series, about the Arsenal as a place of amusement in the 17th and 18th century.


Olivier Bosc
Secretary: 01 53 79 39 02
Fax : 01 53 79 39 03
Email :