The first university in Switzerland was established in Basel with pontifical authorisation. It can be assumed that there already was a small library with a basic collection of books on the premises of the old university at Rheinsprung in Basel, even though it is missing from the first written reference to the University Library which only appeared in 1471. In the beginning, the University Library Basel rather led a niche existence. This was because the libraries at the monasteries, with their comprehensive collections, were of more significance to scholars than the sparsely-equipped University Library.
The Reformation asserted itself in Basel. The books from the abolished monastic libraries were gradually transferred to the University Library following a council order. At the time, professor of jurisprudence Bonifazius Amerbach instigated the Basel book printers to hand in a specimen copy of all their works to the University Library. Along with the monastic manuscripts, these early printed materials form one of the largest treasures at the University Library to this day.
Heinrich Pantaleon put together the first catalogue organised by subject area in book form. This work was taken over in 1585 by Christian Wurstisen and transformed into an alphabetical catalogue.
The City of Basel acquired the art cabinet of the Amerbach family. The books and manuscripts (9000 items) included in it arrived at the University Library Basel, whereby the collection nearly doubled at a single stroke.
Due to spatial constraints, the University Library moved into the “"Haus zur Mücke" at Schlüsselberg.
Up until the start of the 19th century, the University Library was only accessible to a small circle of academic users. Home lending was controlled by the authorities and the opening times were restricted to a few hours per week. In 1881, the opening times were extended and the entire population of the city was granted permission to use the library, which corresponded to the new official name “Public Library of the University”.
Due to numerous donations, a new lack of space became noticeable and the University Library moved into the museum at Augustinergasse (today’s Natural History Museum).
A new university law came into force: The University Library received – for the first time in its history – regular state contributions for book acquisitions and could employ the first full-time librarian. Up until this point, the library had only been looked after as an additional task within another job.
The catalogue, which had existed in book form since 1559, was replaced with a card catalogue, which made possible a systematic classification for new additions.
Near the end of the 19th century, the available space at the museum was already no longer enough to meet the requirements of the University Library. A decision was made to build an independent library building at Bernoullistrasse/Schönbeinstrasse. In 1896, the neo-baroque building, which corresponded to the “modern” library standards of the time, was ready for occupation.
The keyword catalogue was introduced on cards in order to also grant access to the collection via its thematic subjects.
A lack of space and somewhat dated facilities made a new building necessary. The contract was given to Swiss architect Otto Senn.
The Swiss Economics Archive (SWA) was incorporated into the University Library.
The medical library was opened as a subject-specific branch of the University Library within a new centre for teaching and research at the University Hospital Basel.
The computer age at the library began with the introduction of the library system SIBIL.
Online access to the catalogue (OPAC) was made possible.
In the same year, the Faculty of Business and Economics together with its own library was opened as a further branch of the University Library.
The University Library formed a network with the city and University Library in Bern for common cataloguing and indexing.
This year marked the start of a step-by-step installation of rolling racks (compact systems) in the cellar so the library could overcome an imminent lack of space.
The university went live with its first homepage.
In the same year, lending became automated and the open stacks were opened. Until this point the user administration was still being carried out with the use of cards.
A new university law came into force, with which the university was released into self-governance. Up until this date, the library had belonged to the Education Department of the canton and in 1997 it officially became part of the university.
The information network of German-speaking Switzerland (IDS) was established. The participating libraries and library networks agreed on a common set of rules for cataloguing.
The integrated library system Aleph was jointly put into operation with the other IDS libraries.
The re-cataloguing of the old card catalogues was carried out by the firm Medea. This also made it possible to access the collection from before 1939 through the OPAC.
The IDS libraries simplified inter-university lending and borrowing in German-speaking Switzerland via a common user file and the IDS courier.
The structures of book processing proved increasingly unsuitable for the management of electronic media. This resulted in an e-media competence centre being founded in 2007.
The second homepage went live.