The Library serves researchers and students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as various other research and academic institutions, in addition to individual readers from Israel and abroad. The Library's reference department offers services to both national and international requests.
The Library serves three traditional roles: it is the national library of the State of Israel, the national library of the Jewish people, and the central research library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the subjects of Jewish Studies, Islamic and Middle-Eastern Studies, and in the General Humanities.
As part of its role as the National Library of Israel, the Library receives and preserves, by law, all books, newspapers, CD's, records, and recordings published in Israel, regardless of language or religious affiliation.
As part of its role as the National Library of the Jewish people, the Library collects any publication that pertains to Jews and Judaism, from anywhere in the world, including anti-Semitic compositions. A considerable amount of space is reserved for compositions written in the Hebrew letter: Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and Jewish Arabic. The Library's Hebraica and Judaica collections are among the most comprehensive in the world, although many compositions are still missing, especially the ancient books which are no longer to be found. Rounding out this collection are compositions dealing with the cultures and lands where Jews have lived or are currently living in.
As part of its role as the central research library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Library holds the world's most important collection in the field of Jewish Studies. The Library also contains one of the world's leading collections in Far and Middle-Eastern Studies and Islamic Studies, as well as an important collection in the General Humanities: History, Philosophy, Classics, Christian Literature, and more.
The National Library includes several reading rooms: the Judaica Reading Room, the Islam and Middle East Reading Room, the General Reading Room, the Press Reading Room, the music library which houses the National Sound Archive, the Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism Reading Room (Gershom Scholem Library), the maps and travel literature reading room (Eran Laor Cartographic Collection), the history of science reading room (Edelstein Collection), the archives and Hebrew manuscripts reading room, and more.
Apart from books and newspapers, the Library contains a variety of collections, among them the personal archives of writers and scholars such as Martin Buber, S.Y. Agnon, Itzik Manger, A.T. Greenberg, S. Izhar, A.B. Yehoshua, Haim Beer, and many others. The Library also houses the archives of world renowned researchers such as Isaac Newton, collections of Jewish and non-Jewish manuscripts – including illustrated and non-illustrated manuscripts of the Bible – and an almost complete collection of photocopies of Jewish manuscripts from all over the world.
Over the last several years, ongoing cultural and educational projects have been taking place with the goal of exposing the Library's treasures to all that are interested – via the internet and free of charge. Thanks to the David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project, now online and accessible to the public are the Library's Ketubot collection, manuscripts of the Mishnah and the Talmud, ancient maps of Jerusalem, Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, the Einstein Archive, historical Jewish and Israeli press, and more.
These ongoing projects, along with exhibitions, tours, and concerts being held at the Library, are part of the continuing effort to ensure the National Library's proper standing as one of the leading cultural institutions in Israel and the Jewish world.