by Dr Chris Millington, Lecturer in History at the University of Swansea, who originally posted this on his French History Online (Researching French History).
The National Archives (or the ‘modern’ section at least) have now moved to a new site at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. The move caused some grumbling from the researchers that I spoke to – and from myself too. But having spent some time working at Pierrefitte, it’s not all that bad.
The biggest problem for me has been the location of the Archives – or rather the location of the flat that I chose to rent! The new site is located at the end of line 13 at Saint-Denis, meaning it took me about an hour door-to-door to get there from the 13th arrdt. It seems though that unless you live near a line 13 stop in the north of the city, it can take some time to get there (it took a friend living near the Abesses stop in Montmartre 40 minutes). Line 13 is often crowded in the morning and it can be difficult to get a seat. On the way home though you’re guaranteed a seat, being at the first station on the line. Taking the RER B to the Stade de France and then walking to the connecting metro stop is not worth it – it’s a 20 minute walk to the nearest metro stop, though you do get to see the Stade de France on the way)
Upon arriving in Saint-Denis, exit the station and you’ll see that the Archives are well signposted. They are a two minute walk away. I haven’t explored the area around the station much but from what I can see there are few amenities; there’s a small cafe in the station(no seating) but that’s about it.
When you arrive at the Archives, you’ll notice what an impressive building it is – imposing, modern and surrounded by a moat. Pass through security and go to the back of the building (look right to see an Anthony Gormley installation on the water) to register. Registration is now free. Once registered, go the lockers and put the things you’d like to take into the reading room into the plastic case – only computers, paper and pencils are allowed, as is a camera. The lockers operate on an electronic system now – no need for a Euro coin, which I found so annoying at the old site (if you didn’t have one you had to go out and find a shop to get change). There is usually a member of staff on hand to help with the lockers if you get stuck. Here’s a tip – use the corner of your membership card to select options on the touch screen – it’s much more precise.
You are then ready to go through into the reading room. As you enter the reading room, on your right you’ll find the inventory room, where you can search through electronic databases or look at the paper inventories kept on shelves at the end of the room.
The reading room is large, bright and airy, and the seats are very comfortable. There is also a wired internet connection – hurrah! (but the cable may not be suitable for Apple users). Before you can sit down, you need to go to the guichet on the left and ask for aplace, much like you did at the former site. Once equipped with a place number you’re ready to order documents. This is all done online now from the AN’s website : http://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/sia/web/guest/site-de-pierrefitte-sur-seine . This means that you can both use the computers at the AN to order your documents, or you can do it from your desk using the internet connection. You can order up to 5 boxes per day.
It takes about 45 minutes for a box of documents to arrive, and you collect them much the same way as at the former site: ask for the talon at the guichet and the staff will go and get your box. The staff are helpful and friendly, and some will be up for a chat if you like, too. If you’d like to photograph some documents you can do this so long as you aren’t in the ‘Red’ area. The Red area is where you consult sensitive or private documents and you need special permission from the président de la salleto take photos here). Once finished, return the box to the guichet and tell the staff whether it’s a retour définitif (you don’t need the box again), or if you’d like to prolonger’(you can consult the box again in the future without having to reorder it.
Overall, the downsides to the new site are that getting to the location is a hassle, and the lack of a proper cafe/canteen in the building itself is frustrating,. There is a coffee stand that also sells sandwiches and salads (which are ok) and there is now plenty of seating (you can even sit outside if you like), but I don’t know why they didn’t include something better when designing the building (even a cafe similar to the one at the BN would have been good).
But the AN at Pierrefitte is a comfortable place to work and I’ve enjoyed my time there. If you’re lucky and get there early enough in the morning you might even be welcomed by the cockerels that roam the grounds!