Inventory book of the Bibliothèque Mazarine, 1878

Special Collections

French local History

Printed books, 19th-21st centuries

Local and regional French history is a major part of the Mazarine Library's collection development policy. Along with the National Library, the Mazarine has one of the richest collections of publications by French learned societies from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. These reports, bulletins, directories, minutes, brochures and other publications testify to intense scientific activity on a local scale but did not often enjoy a wide circulation which makes their preservation all the more important. In the image of the learned societies themselves in the nineteenth century, they cover many disciplines, particularly history and the auxiliary sciences of history (archaeology, genealogy, heraldry, etc.). The exact volume of the local history collection, which must be considerable to judge by the figures provided by the modern legal deposit, is still to be estimated. It was not until the 1950s that periodicals concerning local history were given a specific shelf mark (SS, for Sociétés Savantes). The numerous brochures were bound – systematically for the second half of the nineteenth century –, in artificial collections for a particular region or marked on the spine: "Collection of Items: Local History".

Library steadily developed this collection in the course of the nineteenth century, through gifts and purchases, and deposits from the Ministry of Public Instruction. The Mazarine became a reference library in this field in the heyday of the learned societies, key players in the world of scholarship that the Historical Studies Committee was founded in 1834 to federate. The Library's role was consolidated when, by ministerial decree of 30 October 1879, the library of the learned societies was moved into its premises for lack of space at the Ministry of Public Instruction. The Mazarine put two rooms at its disposal, one for learned societies in the regions, the other for societies in Paris, but refused to provide the third room requested for foreign societies. The collections from the learned societies' library were issued to the public in the Mazarine's reading room, listed in its catalogue and, until 1886, attributed reference numbers according to the system used in the Mazarine. Administratively, it was nevertheless directly dependant on the Ministry of Public Instruction, and had one staff member on site, separate from the Mazarine Library staff. In 1881, this position was filled by a curator, Armand Dartois, who was replaced by Lefèvre-Pontalis in 1884. The 1879 decree attributed to the Mazarine general works on the history and archaeology from the provinces and the cities which were given to the Historical Studies Committee; but sharing the documents between the two institutions caused friction, to the extent that Lefèvre-Pontalis complained to the Ministry in 1888 of the risk of being absorbed by the Mazarine, which he accused of diverting part of the collections intended for his library. The Ministry decided in November 1888 to transfer the learned societies' library to the National Library building in the rue de Richelieu, under the responsibility of Léopold Delisle.

However, the Library continued to build up its collections, particularly by incorporating duplicates of learned society publications from the National Library collections in 1889. The law of 19 May 1925 instituted the principle of the double legal deposit (printer and publisher); thereafter, the Library was sent a copy of the printer's legal deposit of works on local history belonging to sets already in the library. The modalities of attribution changed later on, with the redistribution of the copies of the publisher's legal deposit, but the Library received a steady stream of publications on "Local and regional French history." The publications of learned societies represent the core of this collection even today, but the growing difficulties faced by some societies, combined with the multiplication of associations working to preserve and develop local heritage, have led to a diversification in these publications over the last twenty years.

Since 2006, publishers have been required to deposit only two copies, leading to a sharp drop in the number of monographs attributed to the Mazarine through this channel. However, the number of periodicals continues to grow even if fluctuating print runs and irregular deposits mean that the collections are too often fragmentary, both in the National Library and in the Mazarine. The scheduled end to the redistribution of the second copy of the publisher's legal deposit at the end of 2014 raises the issue of the future of this collection, which is today one of the most frequently consulted at the Mazarine.

Jean-Pierre CHALINE, Sociabilité et érudition : les sociétés savantes en France : XIXe-XXe siècles. Paris, CTHS, 1995 [Shelfmark: 8° SS 26 G-10].

Arnaud DHERMY, "La bibliothèque des sociétés savantes (1838-1936) : monument important de l’érudition française ou utopie bibliothéconomique ?", Revue de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, n° 41 (2012) p. 61-69 [Shelfmark: 4° P 123 B-41].

Les sociétés savantes aux défis du numérique et de la valorisation du patrimoine des territoires. Journée d'étude BnF / CTHS (19 juin 2013), Paris, BnF, 2013 [report available online: http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/journees_poles_associes/a.jp_num_societes_savantes_2013.html ].

Comité des Travaux Historiques et scientifiques, La France savante [online : http://cths.fr/an]