Library Haven: La Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris

October 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Panthéon, Paris, 75005

I discovered a new library yesterday. Well, new to me anyway. La Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, originally attached to an Abbey of the same name that was founded in the 6th (SIXTH!) century. God I love Paris. Now the library it is used mostly by university students, but the reading room itself is beautiful, old, wood-lined, adorned, muraled, everything you can imagine an old library should be. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed while the room is in use, but I was told that I could return before 9a.m. and ask to visit. Which I will do as soon as I can. Basically it is a beautiful library with an incredible history, that is in extremely active use, both in terms of its space and its contents, by current university students.

I’m not sure if I spent more time working or more time looking around but either way, I loved it. Literally every seat was taken with students working and I noticed a couple of details that were quite different from what one sees these days in most American university libraries, in addition to the age and history of course. First, very few students were using laptops. Most were furiously taking notes on paper and using a broad array of highlighters, pencils and pens in every color of the rainbow. It was refreshing. Second, the shelves were lined with open-access textbooks. It appears that rather than spending enormous sums of money, students can come to this library and pick and choose what they need, when they need it. And unlike the reserve system in American libraries, it was basically a big free-for-all, but it seemed to be working out very well, partly because there were many copies of the same texts. That was also refreshing. Too often reserve texts are always being used by someone else, and the time allotted to use them is often far too limited.

As for me, I found a few texts available in the collections of la Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève that I had not found even at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where I usually work in the research division a day or two each week. A few more great things about this library:

1) You order the books you want yourself using the online catalog on one of the many computers available, and they are delivered within about twenty minutes

2) If you are a doctorant (PhD candidate) you can get une carte d’accès prioritaire which grants you numerous benefits, from being able to get into the reading room even when its full, to getting to skip the line to get in, to getting to reserve more than ten books at a time

3) It is open until 22h (10p.m.)!

4) It is at 10 place du Panthéon in the 5th arrondisement, a wonderful neighborhood to stroll through, full of cafés, bookstores, food markets, gardens, museums, and of course history. Basically a sampling of all the wonderfullness that Paris has to offer.

I will definitely be going back.

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