My last week in Paris was spent at the François-Mitterrand Library of the Bibliothéque nationale de France [BnF]. The Mitterrand Library houses the archives of France, including those that my research is focused upon, Paris’ earliest printed books.
Tickets for entrance to the BnF and exhibitions are open to the public, but to conduct research and make use of the reading rooms, a BnF pass must be purchased. Depending upon the documents you are requesting, the collections staff may ask for additional information and have further requirements. Because the books I am researching are over 500 years old and happen to be some of the first printed books in Paris, I supplied a letter of recommendation from a professor and a short list of research reasons for needing to see these particular books.
Moving through the Mitterrand Library is an experience – to access the reading rooms and collection, you must go through different points of security. There are multiple reading rooms where you can choose to do research – there’s also café and lounges with tables and lamps to work from.
Most rare book collections are very strict and the BnF is no different. All items except your laptop, notebooks, and phone must be stored in lockers. In addition, pens are NEVER allowed – so always bring pencils.
The books I requested were delivered to me at my assigned location along with a book pillow and book weights. Book weights are special cloth covered weights that allow you to hold the book open without damaging the spine.
The opportunity to work on my thesis project at one of the leading archives in the world is a dream and made all of the hard work worth it!