The story of the FAO Library

The basement of building A at FAO headquarters contains 15 kilometres of bookshelves. ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto


The Story of the FAO Library – 65th Anniversary 1952–2017 is a journey through the events that led to what has become one of the world’s finest collections of materials (both digital and print) on food, agriculture and international development. 

An intricate silk-covered case containing several rare Chinese albums. David Lubin’s desk, armchair and bust. ©FAO

Today, the library is the depository of over one and a half million volumes, plus a collection of 400 rare books, 32 incunabula (books printed before 1501) and thousands of digital publications. Its origins lie in the International Institute of Agriculture (IIA), founded in Rome in 1905 by King Vittorio Emanuele III to defend and modernize agriculture, with the encouragement of David Lubin, an American citizen and passionate promoter of agricultural knowledge. Lubin committed to creating and developing the Institute’s library, soon the reference point for research centres, governments and other agencies specialized in agricultural matters.

In the aftermath of World War II, the legacy of the IIA and its unique library were closely safeguarded by FAO. FAO’s library, which officially opened in 1952, was named after Lubin “in recognition of the foresight, leadership, and outstanding contribution … to international co-operation in the field of agriculture.”


This publication unveils the library’s precious collections, ranging from those inherited from the Marquise Raffaele Cappelli, second President of the IIA, to the atlases, periodicals, yearbooks and even an edition of Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos from the Centre International de Sylviculture collection.

The publication's text is accompanied by photographs and images taken from the archives, showing rare pieces ranging from the incunabula to exquisite hand-drawn illustrations.

And what about today? Already as of the 1970s, the library had embarked on digitalization, providing access to technologies and supporting libraries in some 90 developing countries via FAO's decentralized offices. As the book reveals, the Library continues to rise to the digital challenge, maintaining its pivotal role in knowledge dissemination.

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