Collections of books, journals and maps

The printed collections conserved at the Muséum’s libraries are available to all types of public. They include documents of all types, from introductory manuals to research publications and old maps. They constitute a basic resource to feed transdisciplinary reflections specific to contemporary research subjects such as biodiversity and global warming, but also to enable a cross-fertilisation of ideas about the world we live in.


The collections of books, journals and maps at the Muséum’s libraries constitute a set of reference documents dating from the 16th century up to modern times.

The older collection is remarkable for its variety and completeness. The great volume of works aside (over 100,000 titles), it contains many complete sets covering epistemology, systematics, theories of evolution and accounts of voyages. In the map library, there is a set of old maps testifying to the first great geographical discoveries and to the birth of scientific cartography. All of the great illustrated works on flora and fauna published from the 16th century onwards are also present in these collections, as well as most of the old books on medicine, anatomy, physics and chemistry.

As a complement to the old collections, and sometimes partially overlapping with them, there is a good representation of series of originals linked to the birth, within the Muséum, of new disciplinary approaches such as palaeontology and ethnobotany. These echo the institutional and private archive collections conserved at the Bibliothèque centrale (Central Library).

Boosted by specific public funding that began in the 1980s, the Muséum’s libraries were able to procure a near-exhaustive collection of books on botany, zoology, prehistory and palaeontology. The variety of cartographic series presented in the collections reflects the successive centres of interest of the different scientific missions.


Since no catalogue remains, it is difficult to assess the nature of the collections present at the time the Muséum and its library were officially inaugurated in 1793. Although the Bibliothèque nationale was asked to provide copies of its natural history works to the Jardin des Plantes, the first collections were mainly compiled from confiscations during the French revolution, particularly from the nearby Saint-Victor Abbey (2,302 volumes) and the Minimes Convent (2,200 volumes), and from the spoils of war brought back by the armies of the Republic - by 1794, the library possessed over 10,000 volumes.

At the start of the 19th century, more war spoils came to enrich the collections, this time from the Napoleonic conquest, while new methods of collecting materials were being put in place. The Muséum has been publishing its Annales since 1802, which has allowed the library to create a network of publication exchanges with many national and international partners. This network is still active today. Invaluable additions have also come from the personal libraries of scholars who worked at the Muséum, through donation or purchase. Thus in 1833, the government acquired for the Muséum’s library 8,000 volumes that belonged to Georges Cuvier, and these were joined several years later by the family library of the Jussieu dynasty. In the second half of the 19th century, the library of Michel-Eugène Chevreul, a chemist specialising in colours and bibliophile, was added to the collections of an establishment that was already making its name as the foremost library in France in the field of natural sciences.

The collections continued to grow through donations and acceptances in lieu throughout the 20th century. In 1984, Théodore Monod’s library joined the Bibliothèque centrale; in 1992, the CNRS and EHESS added 20,000 volumes from the library of the Jean Malaurie Centre of Arctic Studies. In 1995, Katia and Maurice Krafft’s collection on volcanoes and vulcanology was passed on to the Bibliothèque centrale as an acceptance in lieu. Additionally, we can cite the more recent donation of the Mesoamerican library belonging to the Stresser-Péan husband and wife team.

The Muséum’s map library was compiled in parallel to the other documentary collections, which it today reflects and complements. Thus, these collections stand out by their comprehensive coverage of the Polar regions and the presence of many ethnological maps. Because of its role in the great scientific expeditions across the world, the Muséum also conserves several maps plotting the journeys of these explorers - an invaluable addition for science historians.

The collections kept in the specialised libraries also reflect the diversity and wealth of the scientific research carried out by the Muséum. These documentary collections were created alongside the great historical Chairs of the 18th and 19th centuries, which were structured around the teaching and research activities. During the 20th century, these collections continued to develop to support the laboratories’ activities. In close collaboration with the researchers and learned societies, the specialised libraries encouraged a policy of voluntarily exchanging and donating works and were thus able to assemble specialised documentation that was sometimes difficult to bring together through the traditional acquisition channels.

Contact and means of consultation

The printed books and journals in the Muséum’s libraries are listed in the Muscat catalogue.

The conditions for consulting these collections can be found on the Muséum libraries website.

Please address any questions to the distance information service.

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