La ——thèque

by jemma margaret

If there was a quiz to determine, say, personality traits and it asked:

1. What’s your favorite “______thèque”?

(A) disco

(B) biblio

And if you responded, “hmm, I wonder what the etymology of “thèque” is?”

Well, then, you don’t really need to answer that question, now do you.

Last Thursday I accidentally joined the bibliothèque of Paris. I was looking for a quiet place to work not too far from home, and a quick web search revealed I was not too far from the Bibliothèque Forney.

Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me in when I told them I was studying the history of mathematics. This library was for the history of art. I couldn’t explain that I didn’t actually want to look at any of their books, just edit my paper, and so I grabbed a map and tried again.

To enter the Bibliothèque d’Hotel de Ville one must first pass through a security scanner, then exchange an ID for an entrance card, and climb up five flights of stairs (or, take the elevator–as if!). At the top of the stairs on the left is a small room with a few computers and a librarian at a desk. I walked in, walked out (was this the library? where were the books?), and walked in again.

The librarian asked to see my card. I showed her the entrance card. No, the yellow one, she said. I did not have a yellow one.

“Comment?” I blubbered, “comment?”

“Asseyez vous,” she commanded. So I did.

Getting a library card was surprisingly easy. Easier than in the states where one must verify proof of address. Here, you only need to sign your name swearing that this is indeed your address. They trust people.

On the other hand, ones library card must contain a photo, which I didn’t happen to have. The librarian kindly explained how I could affix my own later, and then gave me a run down of the various library rules. The only one that I remember is that water bottles can be had inside, but not placed on the table. By the time all these preliminaries were through there were only ten more minutes until closing. The librarian graciously suggested that I go in and take a look. So I went through a doorway and climbed two more flights of stairs.

(Why are there no people in the library, you ask. Well, that is because I didn’t take these photographs–I was worried it might be one of the rules I didn’t understand. There are, in fact, many people in the libraries. And believe it or not, they are reading books. Books made of paper! This, my friends, is time travel.)