The founder of the library was a Knight of Malta, Bailiff Fra’ Jean-Louis Guerin de Tencin, who on his death in 1766 left about 9700 books. The library was designed by Polish-Italian architect Stefano Ittar to house all these valuable collections. The building was completed in 1796, but it wasn’t until 1812 when all the books were transferred to this new building.
The Bibliotheca Publica was officially inaugurated the same year, 4th June 1812, by Sir Hildebrand Oakes, British Civil Commissioner to Malta, on King George III’s birthday.
The Bibliotheca houses the Archives of the Order of St John, there are also Archives of the Universita dei Giuratti (the island’s local government prior to 1530), some incunabula (exact copies of books produced in the earliest stages before 1501), a collection of library manuscripts, among which a few 15th century illuminated codices, and a rich Melitensia collection comprising books, newspapers and periodicals published in Malta.
Malta’s National Library served as the island’s first Public Library, but nowadays it’s solely a research and reference library.