The origins of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) can be traced back to the Wittelsbach court library. It was founded in 1558, when Duke Albrecht V. von Bayern (1550–1579) managed to acquire the library of the humanist Johann Albrecht Widmanstetter (1506–1557) who had died the year before. In 1571, the library of Johann Jakob Fugger (1516–1575) was added to the court library, including the book collection once owned by Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514). After this first flowering of the Wittelsbach library, the late seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century in particular constituted a time of stagnation. During the age of Enlightenment, new impulses arrived in the wake of the appointment of librarian Felix Andreas von Oefele (1706–1780) in 1746 and of the foundation of the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Bavarian Academy of Sciences) in 1759.
Around the year 1800, the court library experienced a time of massive growth: from 1802/03 collections of books and manuscripts arrived from the secularised monasteries in Bavaria and in 1803/04 the Mannheim court library was integrated into the Munich holdings. After 1814, Johann Andreas Schmeller (1785–1852) and Martin Schrettinger (1772–1851) started indexing the collections. In 1832–1843, King Ludwig I (1826–1848) commissioned the construction of the new library building, located on Ludwigstraße in Munich, which is used to this day.
After 1900, the library – called "Bayerische Staatsbibliothek" (Bavarian State Library) since 1919 – developed into a modern public library. WWII constituted a major watershed, when the library building was severely damaged during the bombings of 1943–1945 and when more than 500,000 tomes (around one fourth of the entire collection) were destroyed.
Today, the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek acts as treasure trove of cultural heritage, as provider of academic multimedia information and as innovator in the field of digital services and it is one of the foremost national and international ports of call for researchers, for students as well as for all those in general who are seeking information.
The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek is today one of the most important European universal libraries and enjoys worldwide renown as international research library. In conjunction with the Staatsbibliothek (State Library) Berlin and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library) at Frankfurt and Leipzig, it constitutes the virtual Nationalbibliothek (National Library) of the German Federal Republic. It also comprises the central regional and archival library of the Freistaat Bayern (Free State of Bavaria).
The collections include c.10 million volumes (2012) in addition to printed and electronic editions of c.55,000 current journals as well as a further 95,500 manuscripts. Every year, another 150,000 volumes are added after a careful selecting and indexing process in accordance with scholarly criteria.
Some of the most precious manuscripts preserved, rare prints as well as a comprehensively developed special collection that originate in millennia-old cultural heritage define the unique profile of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek’s holdings.
The library has been systematically developing its digital and web based offers and services, for example in the field of electronic editions of academic journals, in the massed digitisation of its collections and in the advancement of innovative digitisation technologies.