As anyone who follows me on Instagram might have noticed, I went to Paris! I saw many great places so I’ve got a lot of Parisian posts coming up. Because Paris has so many things I want to tell you about, I decided to divide it into separate posts. This week, I want to tell you all about the libraries I visited. Over the next few weeks I will also post about bookstores, places that have something to do with a writer and even a special post about Shakespeare and Company.
Paris has a lot of great libraries. And I do mean, a lot. As the capital of France, they not only have local Parisian libraries, but also house the Bibliothèque National de France (National library of France). Furthermore, because Paris also has a university there are several libraries catering the need of students. Unfortunately we weren’t able to visit the library of the Sorbonne (the Parisian university). Because of the recent terrorist threat this library is only available to students of that university.
Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève – 10 Place du Panthéon
This library is almost 200 years old and it is located in the heart of the Quartier Latin (where lots of students live). When you visit the library, you get a free guided tour so there’s always someone to answer all your questions. It is officially a state library, but because the university provides too little study places it’s packed with students. With around two million books it’s the second largest library of Paris and it features a great art historical collection. The books are not for loan so if you want to use their collection you’ll have to stay in the library. Make sure to be there on time because it’s a very popular place to study!
Bibliothèque Mazarine – 23 Quai de Conti
The Mazarine library is part of the Institut de France and is specialised in older books. Today, it holds around 600.000 books with more than 4.600 manuscripts. They also have more than 2.000 incunabula (printed books from the period when printing had just been invented in Europe), such as the famous Gutenberg Bible! The library is still being used to study, and visitors are asked to be respectful of students by not taking pictures. So unfortunately, I can’t show you the beautiful wooden interior (and I also can’t boost my Instagramaccount).
Bibliothèque de l’Hotel de Ville – 5 Rue de Lobau
I’ll be honest: it does takes some time to get access to this library. You have to register, sign some forms and the lady behind the counter will explain everything in French while you are wishing she’d talk just a little bit slower so you just might understand it. But after that, you’ll have access to every library that is owned by the city of Paris. The library in the town hall itself is a little over hundred years old and has a beautiful wooden ceiling. This library doesn’t only have 600.000 printed books and more than 2.000 manuscripts, but it also features about 10.000 architectural drawings and 40.000 photographs!
Bibliothèque National de France location François Mitterand – Quai François Mauriac
This is the main location of the national library of France. As many national libraries, it mainly has a practical function, so it isn’t just wooden book shelfs and cosy nooks. Apart from a place of serious research, it’s also kind of a museum: when I visited they had an exposition on fashion photography and they have a permanent exposition on globes. It’s also a great place to visit if you’re interested in architecture. The building is amazing, and they even have a complete forest in the centre of it all. Not a parc, not a garden. A forest.
Bibliothèque National de France location Richelieu – 58 Rue de Richelieu
I saved the best for last: this library is definitely the most beautiful! The original building is almost 400 years old and it has very recently been renovated so everything still looked shiny. It features an important collection on illuminated medieval manuscripts and many historical documents. But most important, it’s very, very pretty.
Disclaimer: I can’t begin to explain just how many Parisian libraries there are. This is far from a complete list. Not only was I not able to visit the library of the Sorbonne, the national library also has a beautiful location at the arsenal and the list of libraries I got when signing up for my Parisian library card is enormous (57 libraries)! This probably still doesn’t include a lot of private libraries and libraries that are part of a museum.