Découvrez les bibliothèques de la Ville de Genève
Toute l'offre culturelle

  • La Bibliothèque de Genève déploie sur 4 sites un patrimoine écrit, imprimé, musical et iconographique unique qu’elle sélectionne, protège, valorise et transmet au grand public comme au public scientifique.
  • Site internet de la Bibliothèque de Genève

  • Les Bibliothèques municipales sont des lieux de rencontre, de découverte et de partage qui vous proposent de nombreux documents à emprunter ainsi que des activités gratuites pour petit-e-s et grand-e-s.
  • Site Internet des Bibliothèques municipales

  • Les musées d’art et d’histoire, le Musée d’ethnographie et le Museum d’histoire naturelle, les Conservatoires et Jardin botaniques et le Fond municipal d’art contemporain proposent un accès à leur bibliothèque scientifique .
  • Site internet

  • Vous avez une question et vous souhaitez une réponse personnalisée? Le réseau des bibliothèques genevoises vous offre, en moins de trois jours, un résultat fiable et des sources identifiées.
  • Service Interroge


The Bibliothèque de Genève encompasses four sites. There is the main library in the Parc des Bastions, known as the Bibliothèque publique et patrimoniale, the historical public library and repository of much of the city’s cultural heritage. There is the Centre d’iconographie, home to the city’s picture collections along boulevard du Pont d’Arve. Les Délices occupies the great philosopher’s former residence in the neighborhood of the same name. And finally La Musicale is Geneva’s music library in the Maison des arts du Grütli. The Bibliothèque de Genève is also responsible for the beautiful rare-book library that is part of Villa La Grange.

Jean-Jacques Dériaz, Grande salle de la bibliothèque du Collège de Genève en 1873, gouache 42 x 79 cm. BGE, Tabl. 201.

Quite a few changes of identity

Formally created just after the founding of the Collège and Académie de Genève by John Calvin in 1559, the Bibliothèque is historically the dean of Geneva’s cultural institutions. In succession the institution was known as the Bibliothèque de l’Académie (the Academy library) in the 16th century; the Bibliothèque publique (the Public library) in the 18th century; the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire (the Public and university library) throughout the 20th century; and finally the Bibliothèque de Genève since 2006.

An aggregation of collections and institutions

The Bibliothèque de Genève is heir to the dépôt légal, or legal deposit, that was instituted in 1539, and the collections that once formed the Académie’s library.
Located in the Parc des Bastions since 1873, the Bibliothèque de Genève was entrusted with a number of collections over the course of the 20th century, viz., the La Grange library in 1917; Les Délices (formerly Musée Voltaire) in 1973; the Bibliothèque musicale (La Musicale today) in 1998; and, in the 21st century, the Vieux Genève, or Old Geneva, collections (Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève) in 2008. The Bibliothèque de Genève was relieved of its role as a museum in the mid-19th century when parts of its collections were transferred to the Musée Rath, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, and eventually the Musée d’ethnographie.

La salle de lecture construite entre 1903 et 1905 dans l'aile est (ou Senebier) de la Bibliothèque publique. Vue vers la façade d'origine de la Bibliothèque. L'illustration date d'après la suppression des encriers en automne 1905. CIG/BPU, Rec Est 179 17 10


In 1539 a law ordered Genevan printers to henceforth deposit with the Chambre des comptes, or Chamber of accounts, several copies of each of their publications. Thus was born the Genevan dépôt légal, or legal deposit, the oldest such law in the world after France’s own legal deposit (1537). It has ensured that the output of local presses has been conserved over centuries, even if application of the law hasn’t always been strict and the legal deposit was even suspended for quite some time during the 20th century.

Some years after the start of the legal deposit, in 1562 to be precise, the Bibliothèque de Genève is mentioned for the first time, as part of the academy and college founded by Calvin in 1559. It is the latter date that we need to bear in mind for it attests to the existence in Geneva of a true organized library. It is the earliest mention of an institution of this kind in Switzerland after the Basel Library  (1471).

Published catalogues evidence the regular growth of the collections. For instance, 720 volumes are listed in 1572, 1,200 in 1612, 3,500 in 1702, 15,000 in 1779, and over 70,000 in 1872, the year the library moved to the Bastions park and the building it occupies today.

From the outset, private libraries like those of Jean Calvin, François Bonivard, and Pierre Vermigli contributed to the expansion of the original collection. The most remarkable addition under the ancien régime, however, is surely the collection of illuminated manuscripts that the Genevan theologian Ami Lullin purchased in Paris and bequeathed to the library in 1756. Generally the 18th century for Geneva was a period of great cultural and intellectual activity associated with an economic boom, which translated into a notable expansion of the library’s collections.

In 1847 Geneva drew up for itself a new constitution in the wake of the radical revolution, now attributing the Bibliothèque to the City of Geneva. Yet the library’s mission remained bound up with higher education. This explains why the institution accompanied the academy—by then the university—to its new address in the Bastions. In 1907 the library officially took the name of the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, the Public and University Library of Geneva.

The growth of the library’s collections accelerated in the 20th century, as can be seen in all libraries of comparable size and scope, following the general expansion in the output of published materials. The Bastions building quickly proved too cramped, and the century witnessed a series of extensions and transformations. In 1905 a new reading room was built abutting the building’s eastern façade, and a number of exhibition rooms were added. Several refittings of the space increased capacity in the library’s underground book storage; the most recent work was completed in 1987.

Salle Eynard, aile nord de la Bibliothèque, 1er et 2e étages, vue en direction du corps central. Le vide a été comblé en 1937. CIG/BPU, Rec Est 179, M675, cliché Jullien Librairie

In recent years the library’s departments and services have increasingly been digitized. In 1984 the library was connected with the Réseau romand (Swiss-French library network), now known as Rero, the Réseau des bibliothèques de Suisse occidentale (Library network of Western Switzerland), which initially worked on the Sibil system developed at the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire of Lausanne. Today, vtls-Virtua, a commercially developed system, has replaced Sibil on all of the network’s sites.

In 1999 the library inaugurated the very first open-access space in its history. Until then, save for reference books and the limited number of specialized works at readers’ disposal, patrons could only obtain library materials after searching in the catalogues and submitting a request for the book from the storage rooms. Despite its size (40,000 volumes), this encyclopedic selection of recent publications has been a clear success that is attested by the volume of books in circulation.

At the dawn of the 21st century, new renovation work was begun, although without resolving the problem of storage areas filling up in the medium term (over 2,000,000 volumes for printed works alone).

The main reading room was renovated in 2005. It now offers patrons greater comfort and free WiFi access.

In 2006 the Bibliothèque mounted a major show at the Musée Rath, Arts, savoirs, mémoire. Trésors de la Bibliothèque de Genève (Arts, knowledge, memory. Treasures of the Bibliothèque de Genève). It was at this occasion that the library officially readopted its former name, the Bibliothèque de Genève. A complete renovation of the Espace Ami-Lullin, the exhibition gallery located on the ground floor of the Bibliothèque, was begun in 2007. Since the room’s inauguration in October 2008, the brand-new furnishings and equipment make it possible to display items under optimal security conditions. An area for lectures and talks has also been added to the exhibition gallery.

As an administrative entity, the Bibliothèque de Genève comprises four distinct sites today. There is of course the Bastions main library, along with Les Délices, La Musicale and the Centre d'iconographie. To these we can add the historical library of the Villa La Grange, whose collections are managed by the Bibliothèque de Genève.