The forerunner of what is now The National Library (to be referred to as the Library henceforth) may be traced back to the last decade of the Spanish colonial period, with the inauguration of the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas in 1891. Its location was on No. 12, Gunao Street, Quiapo, Manila. It had a collection of about 100 Filipiniana works open to the public free of charge.

The Philippine-American War brought damage to the collection; those recovered passed on to the collection of the American Circulating Library organized by the American Circulating Library Association of Manila on March 9, 1900. The Association put up the Library "to create a source of instruction and profitable entertainment for the American soldiers and sailors in the Philippines and for the American residents" in Manila. The American Circulating Library had some 10,000 volumes of collection, composed wholly of American books, most of which were fiction, while its Filipiniana comprised only a small portion. The Library's first location was on 70 Rosario St., Binondo, Manila. The first librarian was Mrs. Nellie Young Egbert.

The Association found it hard to maintain the Library's expenses. It decided to donate its collection to the American Military government in the Philippines. Act No. 96 passed by the Philippine Commission on March 5, 1901 formalized the donation. This date marks the foundation of public libraries in the Philippines.

In May 1904, the Library moved to the Oriente Hotel on Plaza Calderon de la Barca between Oriente and Veronica Streets. The government reorganization in November 1905 made the Library a division of the Bureau of Education. Hence, in March 1906, it moved again to the Bureau of Education building located at the corner of Cabildo and Recoletos Streets, Intramuros, Manila.

The lawmakers in the Philippines Assembly created the Philippine Public Library through Act No. 1849, June 3, 1908. A year after, on May 20, 1909, Act No. 1935 was passed renaming the Library as Philippine Library. In October 1911, the Library change its location to a building along Santa Potentiana Street, Intramuros, Manila. It stayed there until July 1927. Meanwhile, Act No. 2572 of January 31, 1918 merged the Library with two other offices - the Executive Bureau's Division of Archives, Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks and the Law Library of the Philippine Assembly - to be named The Philippine Library and Museums.

Act No. 3477 passed on December 7, 1928 separated the Museum from the Library, the one becoming the National Museum, the other The National Library. The latter moved to the Legislative Building remaining there until 1944. The reorganization of the Library after World War II also changed its location to the former Bilibid Prison, Oroquieta St., Sampaloc, Manila starting in June 1945. Executive Order No., 94, series 1947 changed the name of the Library to Bureau of Public Libraries which went back in June 1950 to its previous location at the Legislative Building. After several months there, the Philippine Assembly ordered it to move out, occupying the old Philippine Assembly buildings instead at the corner of Lepanto (now S.H. Loyola) and P. Paredes St., in Sampaloc.

In 1955, the Library moved once more to the discarded buildings of the Department of Foreign Affairs on Arlegui St., although the General Reference Division was still housed on P. Paredes Street and the Research and Bibliography Division, including the Binding Section were still located in the old Bilibid Prison in Oroquieta St. The passage of Republic Act No. 3873, June 18, 1964, reverted the name to the National Library.

Finally, from different locations, the Library is now located on the southeast side of Rizal Park. The building faces T.M. Kalaw Street, occupies a total of 26,400 sq.ft. of ground and has a total floor space of 198,700 sq.ft. It was inaugurated in June 1961 in commemoration of the 100th birth anniversary of the Filipino national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

Past Directors of TNL

James A. Robertson (Feb. 20, 1910 - Apr. 1916)
Feliciano Basa (Mar. 31, 1916 - Jan. 14, 1917)
Macario Adriatico (Jul. 1917 - April 14, 1919)
Enrique V. Filamor (Apr. 25, 1919 - Nov. 15, 1920)
Jose Zurbito (Actg. Asst. Dir.: Nov. 16, 1920 - Dec. 30, 1924)
Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera (Jan. 23, 1923 - Mar. 25, 1925)
Jaime C. de Veyra (Actg. Asst. Dir.: Mar. 27, 1925 - Jun. 14, 1925)
Fernando Canon (Actg. Asst. Dir.: Jun. 16, 1925 - Aug. 11, 1925)
Epifanio de los Santos (May 16, 1925 - Apr. 18, 1928)
Teodoro M. Kalaw (Feb. 16, 1929 - Dec. 14, 1939)
Eulogio Rodriguez (Jan. 16, 1940 - Feb. 3, 1945)
Luis Montilla (Officer-in-Charge: Jun. 1945 - Sept. 1, 1946)
Eulogio Rodriguez (Sept. 19, 1946 - Apr. 3, 1949)
Luis Montilla (May 24, 1949 - May 7, 1956)
Ernesto R. Rodriguez, Jr. (Officer-in-Charge to Actg. Director: May 10, 1956- 1962)
Carlos Quirino (May 8, 1962 - Jan. 22, 1966)
Rufino Alejandro (Officer-in-Charge from DECS)
Serafin D. Quiason (Jul. 14, 1966 - Sept. 23, 1986)
Narcissa V. Muñasque (Sept. 24, 1986 - Mar. 31, 1992)