The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Library was first created at the initiative of the ICRC's co-founder and president, Gustave Moynier. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become a specialized documentation centre with comprehensive collections on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, international humanitarian law (IHL) and relief to war victims, keeping track of the latest legal debates and technological innovations in the fields related to the ICRC's activities. The publications collected by the Library until the end of the First World War form a rich collection of almost 4,000 documents now known as the ancien fonds, the Library's Heritage Collection.
Direct witness to the birth of an international humanitarian movement and of IHL, the Heritage Collection contains the era's most important publications related to the development of humanitarian action for war victims, from the first edition of Henry Dunant's groundbreaking Un souvenir de Solférino to the first mission reports of ICRC delegates and the handwritten minutes of the Diplomatic Conference that led to the adoption of the 1864 Geneva Convention. This article looks at the way this unique collection of documents retraces the history of the ICRC during its first decades of existence and documents its original preoccupations and operations, highlighting the most noteworthy items of the Collection along the way.