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Erika Hope Spencer, Reference Specialist, European Reading Room, Latin American, Caribbean & European Division
Alexandre É. Brun, Intern, European Reading Room, Latin American, Caribbean & European Division
R. Grant Kleiser, Intern, European Reading Room, Latin American, Caribbean & European Division
Created: July 5, 2021
Last Updated: December 3, 2022
When researching the countries of Europe, The European Reading Room of the Library of Congress is the obvious point of departure. Located adjacent to the Hispanic Reading Room, both Reading Rooms comprise the Latin American, Caribbean and European Division (LAC&E). The European Reading Room holds the reference collections for France and serves as a starting point for exploring France and the major impact that France has had on global history and culture.
French is one of the world’s most influential languages—it is an official language in 29 countries and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. French art, architecture, cuisine, cinema, literature, philosophy, law, and economic and imperial reach has had an enduring effect on the globe to this day. The Library of Congress holds over one million items from and related to France. While the Library of Congress has traditionally collected material that mostly pertains to Franco-American relations, it also contains a wide array of other items on France. The Library's collection policies aim to maintain broad international subject collections capable of meeting the needs of Congress, the United States government, libraries, and the American public. In 1814 the U.S. Congress bought Thomas Jefferson's personal library which is on display in the Thomas Jefferson Building. Jefferson collected widely in the French language and many of the books in this collection were personally selected by Jefferson when he was in Paris serving as minister to France in the years just preceding the French Revolution (1784-1789). France's significant role in the settlement of North America as well as its central position in the intellectual activities in Europe account for the high proportion of French material in the Library.
Major purchase contracts, exchange agreements, international treaties, and gifts have given, and continue to give, the Library extensive coverage of both French-language commercial and noncommercial book and serial publications. The collection holds French government documents issued at the national, regional, and municipal levels and a depository library collection of international organization documents issuing primarily from Paris, Brussels, Geneva, and Strasbourg. The Library holds a comprehensive collection of 19th and especially 20th-century French-language production in the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and technology. Since the later nineteenth century, the Library has also been the depository library for all American translations and editions of French titles.
This guide offers links to diverse resources on France from across the Library including digitized primary sources, selected books and periodicals on a number of subjects, online databases, information on the European Reading Room, and tips for searching. Most titles held in the General Collections, including government documents, may be located by using the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Additional information, especially for materials cataloged before 1970, is available in the Main Card Catalog, located adjacent to the Main Reading Room. Additional book titles may be located in microform and electronic collections (e.g., French books before 1601 and French books 1601-1700). Databases such as Classiques Garnier Numérique or ARTFL, along with periodical indexes and bibliographic databases are located on our e-resources page and are also listed out by name in this guide under subscription databases. E-books that are either in the Library's database holdings or in open-access sources are located under E-Books.
For specific questions or assistance using the Library’s resources, use the Ask a Librarian service to contact a reference librarian.
In addition to this guide to the French collections, staff of the Library of Congress have produced several other detailed guides on French and Francophone resources. They are linked below.
Official Name: République Française (French Republic)
Head of State/ Government: President Emmanuel Macron
Population: 67.3 million
Languages: French (official), Alsatian, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Gallo, Occitan, Walloon, West Flemish, Franco-Provincial, Lorraine Franconian, French Guiana Creole, Martiniquan Creole, Guadeloupean Creole, and various other Gallo-Romance languages
Administrative Regions: 13 Metropolitan Administrative regions (regions de France métropolitaine): Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Brittany, Centre-Val de Loire, Corsica, Grand Est, Hauts-de-France, Île-de-France, Normandy, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, Pays de la Loire, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. 5 Overseas Departments and Regions (départements et régions d'outre-mer): French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Réunion. 5 Overseas Collectivities (collectivités d’outre-mer): Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia. 1 Special Status Island (statut particulier): New Caledonia.