Paris has 58 lending libraries and 11 specialized libraries all over the city. In addition to the many books, periodicals, and films, you will also find peace and quiet and a space to work or read away from a cramped studio apartment or a noisy shared living space. Plus, to enjoy all of this, you don’t even need to spend 3 on a coffee drink — it’s all free!
Membership is easy enough. Just go into any one of Paris’s public libraries and ask to sign up. You will need a valid photo id with you, but otherwise that’s it. You’ll have to fill out a form giving your address and your basic information, and then you’ll be given your library card that is valid for one year. It is completely free to check out books and periodicals; however, if you want to check out CDs and records, it’s 30 for a year 60 for a year of audio/visual material.
With most items from the libraries, you can borrow them for up to 3 weeks.
Studying the History of Paris? How about Gardening, or Police Literature? If this is the case, then you should consider registering at any one of Paris’s specialized libraries. To do this, just go to the library that interests you and ask to get a special library card. Depending on the library, you may or may not have to pay a membership fee, and the check-out conditions will most likely vary from those of the lending libraries.
Here are some of Sam’s favorite libraries in Paris. Let it be known, that she is not much of a library girl, but these are remarkable for their beauty, resources and overall coolness.
Bibliothèque du Centre Pompidou: Located in the iconic Beaubourg modern art museum, this library always has something going on– from séances in the “666” aisle (true story), to author events, to film premieres. With late hours (open until 10 pm every night except Tuesday) this is one of the few times you can go to a library and look cool.
Bibliothèque Nationale François Mitterand: Since 1996, France’s national library has been housed in a beautiful, modern building in the 13th arrondissement, next to the Cinémathèque Française. The BNF is one of the world’s largest libraries and is ground zero for every serious researcher, academic, or pseudo-intellectual. Every year the BNF puts on some world class exhibitions, drawing upon its many resources. In 2008, the library exhibited its once forbidden erotica collection. The exhibition titled L’Enfer à la BNF was one of the year’s cultural high points.
Bibliothèque Chaptal: There are lots of libraries like Chaptal, but Sam recommends this because she knows it. Located in an old Parisian mansion, this small public library mostly has children’s books, but it’s an excellent place to work, or to be alone. It is absolutely beautiful.