A story of libraries and travels

While travelling for my research, I discovered something interesting: the notion of a «library» (aka, my second home) is not the same thing everywhere.

By living in Québec all my life, I had this vision of a library as a place where anybody, adult or kid, can go and consult books. With a card, those who have an address in the province can borrow magazines, books or DVD to enjoy them at home. Some more ancient or rare books are available only on request, but that is not usually a big deal. Libraries like the BAnQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec) are quite big and welcoming.

Credit: BAnQ / Facebook

In Paris, for what I understand, only municipal and school libraries loan books. In the BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France), most scholarly books are only available to researchers, who needs a special card to get them. In order to have this card, one must present a request with a letter of recommendation, which specifies the books or manuscripts which cannot be seen otherwise. And then, the researcher has to pay for the card.

Consulting in the manuscript room at Richelieu is quite beautiful. Access, always with the card, is easy since we only have to present it at the entrance of the reading room.

Credit: Jean-Christophe Ballot © BnF / Facebook

But to go to the «rez-de-jardin», or the reading room for researchers in the main building (head picture), is quite a journey. We have to present the card, then take not one, but two escalators, swipe the card again and finally we are in the reading rooms. No one can go out for more than three hours or we lose our place. Some books are on the shelf, but the majority has to be taken in by the staff. Since the decoration is made mostly of chain mail,  there is a vague feeling of being in a metal box. The garden in the middle is not accessible.

Even if the BnF is quite big and holds a lot of books, and that the librarians are very nice, I must say that I prefer the more informal and welcoming national library in Québec. I am looking forward to experiencing the type of library life in Rome and in Ottawa!

What kind of feeling do you have while searching in a library or archive?


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