The History of the KB, National Library of the Netherlands

Stadtholder Willem V. Portrait made by Johann Friedrich August Tischbein.

The National Library of the Netherlands was founded in 1798. The library was established on the basis of a collection of books and manuscripts belonging to Stadtholder Willem V, who had defected to England. It was then based in the Binnenhof in The Hague. According to the first catalogue dating from 1800, the collection then numbered 5,500 books and periodicals. 

During the reign of King Louis Napoleon at the start of the 19th century, the library was designated 'Koninklijke' (Royal). The collection grew quickly and the library had to move. The KB was relocated to the Mauritshuis, but before long, it had outgrown these premises too. King William I decided to move the library to the building at Lange Voorhout 34, where the KB remained from 1821 to 1982.

In 1982 the KB moved to the current building next to Centraal Station, which was designed by the OD205 agency under the direction of architect Arie Hagoort.

The KB becomes an academic library

The KB collection continued to grow during the 19th and 20th centuries. This was helped by gifts, for example, and by loans and purchases of collections and highly valuable items. These still form the basis of the various special collections. The KB has since developed into an academic library, with a focus on humanities and social sciences.

The KB Netherlands collection

When it was founded in 1798, the intention of the library was to collect national heritage in print form. In other words: to collect printed books, newspapers and magazines published in or about the Netherlands. Until 1974, there was no real strategy behind the items collected. But since this date, the KB has collected one copy of every publication that appears in the Netherlands. Together they form the Netherlands collection that contains ‘everything written in or about the Netherlands’.

Since the 1990s, the KB has also been collecting digital Dutch publications, and since the turn of this century, this also includes websites. Members of the KB can view any publication they want in the KB, but we also share a lot of the collection online. All publications are well-cared for and stored safely.

  • The repository at the Lange Voorhout...

  • ...versus the repository in the current building, Prins Willem-Alexanderhof 5.

The KB in the 21st century: from 5,500 to 4.4 million items

Over the course of almost 225 years, the KB has grown into a nationally and internationally renowned academic institution. In addition, since 2015, the KB also plays an important coordinating role in the network of public libraries next to maintaining the National Digital Library.

In April 2022, the KB employed over 400 members of staff, had a collection of 4.4 million items (not including digital items), which together form 120.5 kilometres of books, newspapers and magazines. This is extended by another 10 metres of full bookshelves every week.

If you enjoy figures like these, take a look at the infographic of our annual report  (PDF). Millions of people surf the internet to find the wonderful, fascinating secrets stored by the KB.