It was founded by count Edward Raczyński of Rogalin. The classicist edifice was built between 1822-29 according to a design made in Rome by an unknown architect. The front elevation, with its impressive colonnade made up of 12 pairs of cast iron Corinthian columns, was modelled on the east wall of the Louvre. It was the first building in Poland erected virtually exclusively to house a library collection. Destroyed in 1945, the building was rebuilt between 1953-56. The elevations were restored in 1998.
The library was opened on 5 May 1829. In conformity with its founding statute, the library became property of the city and was to be run by a board of trustees. The historian Józef Łukaszewicz was the first librarian in charge of the collection, which started from several thousand volumes donated by the founder. On the eve of WWII the library already numbered some 165 thousand volumes.
In 1943, fearing the bombing raids of the Allied forces, the most precious part of the collection was taken to an estate in Obrzycko owned by Józef Aleksander Raczyński. Thanks to that, 17 thousand volumes were saved, most of them manuscripts, old prints and incunabula coming from the collection donated by the founder. In 1945 the rest of the collection left in Poznań were burnt.
The Raczyński Library is today the second athenaeum - after the University Library - in the city. It now has around 1.6 million volumes. The collection can be divided in three categories: special volumes, base collection of a scientific character, and educational and fictional titles that can be found in its branches and rental units.
The most valuable positions belong to the first category and include almost 9,000 manuscripts (among them ca. 100 parchment documents), almost 18,000 old prints (including ca. 250 incunabula) and some 10,000 charts. Some of the most valuable items are:
the manuscript of a codex from 1460 containing a selection of theological treaties by Augustine Triumphus of Ancona;
old Polish prints, e.g. works of Stanisław Hozjusz (1553), Łukasz Górnicki (1566), Mikołaj Rej (1568);
prints from the Poznań workshop of Melchior Nehring (1577) and those published by the Jesuit printing press (17th-18th century).
The Library also chronicles contemporary cultural life in Poznań, among others through its Centre for Documenting the Great Poland Literary Activity.
The Library supervises several popular Poznań museum outlets: The Henryk Sienkiewicz Museum of Literature, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski workshops, Home Atelier of Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna and Jerzy Pertek Memorial Hall.