Inside Paris’s City Hall lives a hidden gem of a library you’d never know existed. No tourists allowed. Even a French public library card won’t get you access.
La Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville is a “specialty” library, and requires you to apply for a card proving you’re a resident and have a need to access the specialized libraries of Paris. This limited entry means the library never feels too busy and stays very quiet and conducive to working and studying.
This is the actual library for the administration of Paris and the collection reflects the needs and interests of government officials including the political, economic and social history of France, public finances and social life and culture. The bibliothèque website says it is the “memory” of the Parisian administration, which is quite a lovely and expressive way to describe a library.
The library also maintains a collection of architectural drawings and photographs related to the design and construction of the city of Paris, including of that of the Hôtel de Ville itself.
The most striking feature of the Hôtel de Ville library is the wooden spiral staircases in each corner. Visitors can’t climb up themselves, but the charm factor of these staircases is undeniable.
In 2013, English indie rock band Foals recorded a version of their song “Late Night” inside the library late at night for La Blogothèque and its “Empty Space” series. Take a look at how the stacks look and feel in the evening hours.
I love the little details all over the Hôtel de Ville library. The gold numbers marking each visitor’s individual spot on the tables. The studs on the carved wooden chairs. There are even free bookmarks printed with an illustration of the library.
Truly a hidden gem in the city, I love coming here to write or study alongside a few dozen other visitors reading, drafting, designing or playing solitaire on one of the old computers. The room is small enough to feel intimate but its high ceilings and open floor plan keep it from feeling stuffy. You also never know what government official you may be working next to.
If you’re a Paris resident and interested in accessing the Hôtel de Ville Library, you’ll need to visit the 4th floor reception and fill out an application. Use the entrance in the back of the building, and you’ll have to leave an ID downstairs at the welcome desk to get a pass to the building. Bring a passport-sized photo and proof of residency. You’ll need to give a reason you’d like to access the library– I said that I’m a journalist working on a project and that was sufficient. The card is free and you can access the library as often as you need.
Wifi is available, though not super-speed, so don’t plan on doing much downloading or uploading here.