The Fundamental Library originated in 1918 as part of the Socialist Academy of Social Sciences (renamed Communist Academy in 1924). Initially its collection consisted of materials expropriated from the libraries of various organizations of the former Russian Empire and numerous private book collections. The systematic organization of the Library and cataloging of materials began in 1923 with the appointment of Henrietta Karlovna Derman as director. One of her many achievements was the creation of a subject catalog still widely used by contemporary scholars.

In 1936 after the liquidation of the Communist Academy, the Library became the Fundamental Library of the Social Sciences Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1938 it was renamed the Fundamental Library of Social Sciences. In 1969 the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences (INION) of the Russian Academy of Sciences was founded, based on the Fundamental Library. When INION was reorganized in 1997, several research centers were established, one of them being the Library. Over time it became an information hub in the humanities and social sciences. It has developed close relationships with libraries and research institutions around the world. Many of its publications and electronic databases are part of the collections of research libraries in numerous countries.