The documentary network of the Museum's libraries includes, around the central library, fourteen specialised libraries located in the departments. The libraries make the documentary, archival and artistic collections of the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle available to the scientific community and to any interested members of the public. They are responsible for processing, preserving and promoting these collections and, through their mediation activities, they also contribute to the dissemination of scientific and technical culture to a wide audience.
Originally made up of books from the Jardin du Roi,the library expanded after the Revolution to become one of the richest natural science libraries in the world.
The first directors of the Museum, Louis Jean-Marie Daubenton and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu, were particularly concerned with building up the library's collection, notably by enriching it with the confiscations of the Revolution. On this occasion, the vellum collection was transferred from the royal collections to the Museum. The first librarian of the establishment, Georges Toscan, appointed in 1794, estimates that the library already contained 15,000 volumes.
Considered the golden age of the Museum, the 19th century was also that of the library. The war prizes of the Empire, a large collection of scientific periodicals, ministerial concessions, the acquisition of the documentation necessary for scientific activity as the chairs were created and developed, as well as remarkable gifts, legacies and purchases were added to the initial collection. These collections reflect the intense scientific activity of the scientists and professors of the Jardin du Roi and then of the Museum, while situating it in the great movement of discovery of the world and acquisition of knowledge through travel and exploration in which the Museum has regularly been involved.
This policy of expanding the collections continues today: in line with the existing holdings, the development of documentary, archival and artistic collections is based on the Museum's missions. Its collections, in the fields of science and the history of nature and mankind, have been recognised as "Collections of Excellence" by the Collex-Persée Scientific Interest Group - as part of the scheme to replace the Centres for the Acquisition and Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Information (CADIST).
Today, the Museum's libraries contain nearly two million scientific and administrative archives, documents, works of art, scientific instruments and collection objects.
The Museum libraries serve as a public library, a heritage library and a research library.
They make available:
- reading rooms, freely accessible (ground floor of the central library, by accreditation or by appointment (research room of the central library, specialist libraries)
- catalogues referencing the collections
- a digital library
- a remote information service
- remote document delivery services
- an exhibition loan service