The National Library of Nigeria came into effect in the mid 1960s, with the enactment of the National Library Act of 1964. Prior to the passage of the National Library act, a series of educational conferences conducted in Ibadan, had laid the intellectual basis for the creation of a network of libraries funded by the government to provide accessibility of educational materials to Nigerians. A government advisory committee was later created due to the necessity for the development of a local repository of knowledge. The committee was charged with finding a way to aid the government in bringing to prominence the intellectual foundations of its policies, creation of a national bibliographic center and to provide an arena for the promotion of knowledge. The committee was the first major formal body that called for a National Library as part of its recommendations. The government accepted the demands of the advisory committee and undertook the necessary steps to build a National Library.The National Library of Nigeria was established for the fundamental goal of ensuring access to the entire fount of recorded knowledge for the progress and development of Nigeria. It is to serve as "the giant memory of the nation, its intellectual store-house, and the data bank for its learning and remembering processes".
The construction of the Library began in 1962 and the Library was finally opened in November 1964. The headquarters was moved from Lagos to Abuja ca. 1995.
The Library Act enacted by the House of Representatives of Nigeria guaranteed financial assistance to the project, the act also provided provisions for the training of staff and the creation of a board of directors made up of professionals. In concord with the demands of the Nigerian republic and the assembly, a group of 15 trained librarians were hired to provide a positive role in developing and manning the library. A board was inaugurated in April 1966 by a new military government. The board was made up of government officials instead of professionals as written on the original act. However, the board tried to improve on the original objectives of the library. But the Nigerian civil war hampered funding and formal government actions were not taken until 1970. In 1970, a new legal precedent was set with the creation of the National Library decree, the decree was partly enacted on the advise of the board which wanted to expand the library to other state capitals in order to create a network of repositories of knowledge
The National Library of Nigeria was established by the National Library Act 1964 which was later repealed and substituted with the National Library Act No. 29 of 1970. The statute enjoins the institution to:
Assemble, maintain and extend a collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets, newspapers, maps, musical scores, films and recordings and such other matter as the Board considers appropriate for a library of the highest standing.
To collect legal deposit materials, in order to facilitate the distribution of published materials.
Establish and maintain a branch of the National Library in each state of the federation.
Make the facilities of the National Library available to members of the public and others on proper terms.
Make such arrangements as the Board considers appropriate with respect to:
The exchange of matters included in the collection aforesaid,
The preparation and publication of catalogues, indexes and similar aids,
The provision of assistance to other persons in the organization of libraries and with respect to the manner of using facilities under the control of libraries.
Make recommendations and give advice on library development or organization to any department or agency of government of the Federation or a State or to any Local government authority.
Responsible for the development of the National Bibliography of Nigeria and national bibliographical services, either in a national bibliographical centre or elsewhere.
To ensure adequate documentation and dissemination of Nigerian Indigenous literatures.