1877 to 1926

Following negotiations between the Royal Dublin Society, the Department of Science and Art (London) and the Commissioners of Public Works (Ireland), the Dublin Science and Art Museum Act of 1877 (40 & 41 Vict., ch.ccxxxiv) was passed, establishing a National Library and National Museum. This Act enabled the transfer of most of the Society's Library, and the Joly Library, to the new National Library, which in fact remained on the Society's premises in Leinster House until 1890. The new Library was superintended by the Council of Trustees, eight of whom were appointed by the Society, and four by the Department of Science and Art.

National Library rules for binding books, 1899 (EPH EDU 1890-1900,1). National Library rules for binding books, 1899 (EPH EDU 1890-1900,1).

At their first meeting on 21 February 1878, the Trustees appointed William Archer, librarian of the Royal Dublin Society, as the first Librarian. The National Library was one of the first libraries to implement the Dewey Classification System. The present building, designed (along with the National Museum building) by the architectural practice of Thomas N. Deane and Son, was opened in September 1890. It proved very popular, as the figures for annual returns of readers indicate, though the space shortage was an issue from the start, as the East Wing, as planned by the architect, was not completed until 1925/26.

T. W. Lyster, succeeded Archer as Librarian in 1895. He was a founder member of Cumann na Leabharlann (1905) and the Irish Rural Libraries Association. He also encouraged the students of the nearby University College Dublin to use the Library. As well as serving as a reference library, the Library displayed a specific interest in Irish bibliography. Richard Irvine Best, the first Celtic scholar on the Library staff, was appointed in March 1904. He and his colleagues Lyster and W. K. Magee (the essayist ‘John Eglinton’) appear in James Joyce’s Ulysses, set in Dublin on 16 June of that year. Best’s Bibliography of Irish philology and of printed Irish literature and its companion volume covering the years 1913 to 1941 are standard bibliographies to this day.  Lyster retired in 1920, and was succeeded by Robert Lloyd Praeger, remembered as the author of The way that I went. In 1924/25, after the foundation of the Irish Free State, the Library was transferred to the Department of Education, under which it remained until 1986. Best became Librarian in 1924.

Queen Victoria statue outside the National Library (NLI Ref.: EAS 1772).
Queen Victoria statue outside the National Library (NLI Ref.: EAS 1772).
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