Thursday, 27 November 2008
An Afternoon among Montreal's Rats de bibliothèque, Or the Pleasure of Libraries
The Grande bibliothèque du Québec—Quebec’s bibliothèque nationale in downtown Montreal--was full of people of all ages at 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon. The elderly and the well-dressed mixed amiably with the young and the scruffy in the reading rooms and the document check-outs. It had been a long time since I’d visited—I usually use libraries which are nearer to where I live or the one at McGill—but I was looking for the English translation of Ensemble, C’est tout by Anna Gavalda for the next round of book discussions the week after next. Oddly all copies of Hunting and Gathering, as it’s called in English, were out on loan everywhere, except for one at Quebec’s flagship library.
I couldn’t help thinking two things as I checked out my books (of course I found a couple of other things I couldn't resist: that's the great joy and the great danger of libraries.) The first was just how user-friendly it is, and the second—a corollary--was how different it is from the François-Mitterrand complex of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris even though both are official depositories for everything published in their jurisdictions. Quebec’s "national" library has suffered problems—a number of the frosted glass panels on the outside which allow floods of diffused light to enter the building without harming books have disintegrated and fallen, for example. But it has been adopted enthusiastically by Montrealers who obviously were thirsting for such a public place.
Paris’s Grande bibliothèque is something else again, a place for research and serious scholars. It may be the center piece for a revitalization of former industrial sites along the Seine, but it is almost forbidding. The difference reflects many things, among them France’s longer intellectual tradition: the BNF has an enormous collection of priceless things that must be carefully preserved. But the crowds in the Quebec’s Grande bibliothèque also are a response to a long penury of public libraries in most of the province. Montreal has had to play catch=up, and decided to collaborate with the GBQ project in order to fill a great need. Better late than never, I guess.
Note: On the left, a photo of Montreal's Grande bibliothèque from Virtual Tourist. On the right, my photo of the François Mitterand complex.
Posted by Mary Soderstrom