Freie Universität Berlin was founded in 1948 as a University for the three western sectors of Berlin (see also: Kleine Chronik der FU, a short University chronicle in German).
An office (officially called Bibliotheksleitstelle), originally installed for library coordination purposes only, soon began to extend its activities to collecting books and journals as a kind of nucleus for a university library, a fact that was formally acknowledged in 1952, when it was renamed accordingly.
Development of holdings, so soon after the war, was difficult despite many donations.
At first, the piecing together of holdings, often fragmentary, originating from various libraries, dismantled as a result of the war, caused a certain randomness in the University Library's holdings (compare: Special holdings).
From 1952 the Freie Universität University Library, then the only general academic library in the western part of the city, received one copy of every book published in Berlin from the Association of Publishers and Booksellers in Berlin. From 1965 through 1994 the University Library served as the legal deposit library for West Berlin and was thus in charge of archiving the regional book output. That meant that literature that would not normally qualify for an academic library was also acquired.
Adequate funding began in 1964, following recommendations by the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat). Consequently it became possible to acquire not only current research literature but also important earlier literature, either in the original or as microform productions; from that time into the 90s, the Library was able to build a comprehensive collection covering all disciplines.
While the department libraries, the number of which amounted to nearly one hundered over time, were mainly organized as reference libraries with no circulation, the University Library with its extensive holdings served as the central lending library for Freie Universität Berlin.
During the 90s both financial resources and the number of students decreased significantly; under the circumstances, in 2000, Freie Universität adopted a structural reform of the library system.
New library regulations, enacted in 2000, assign complementary functions to the University Library and the department libraries. they form a functional library system. Specialized literature in individual disciplines is now acquired mainly and primarily by the department libraries.
According to the regulations of 2000, the University Library is in charge of reference literature, i. e., bibliographies, encyclopedias, source works, basic research literature, and interdisciplinary literature. However, literature of specific relevance to Freie Universität research activities is still acquired.
Building on the holdings pertaining to historical research on socialism (compare: Special holdings) the University Library continues to acquire a relatively wide range of current literature on the theory and history of socialism and the labor movement.
The University Library archives all dissertations written at Freie Universität. Exchange with German and foreign universities is an important source of current research literature.
One of the University Library's main responsibilities is the provision of electronic media. Currently, some 1,600 databases are available for FU members and users at the FU libraries, namely bibliographic databases, full-text archives, such as JSTOR, and facts databases, such as Statista. The numBer of e-books provided is about 620,000 including national licenses funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
The digital collections provided by Freie Universität Berlin also include more than 60,000 electronic journals (28,400 of which licensed specifically for members of Freie Universität Berlin).
Turn to the German library statistics pool, Deutsche Bibliotheksstatistik, for further key figures and performance data.
The University Library has been serving as a United Nations Depository Library since 1956 and as a European Documentation Centre since 1963. Consequently, the collections include the publications and documents of the United Nations and the European Union / European Community (see: United Nations and European Union Documentation Center).