The Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle provides one of the more relaxed research settings in Paris. Located in 5ème arrondissement in France’s national botanical garden – the Jardin des Plantes – the Muséum has its own central library that can be accessed either through the gardens themselves (free to stroll through) or directly off of Rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (no. 38). There is a security point in the lobby, but this is only a bag check from a sole guard and not a full metal detector situation.
The research library is on the second floor of the building. To register I needed ID and a letter from my supervisor. The library itself is a large reading room with a corner blocked off as the Salle de Réserve for consulting archival material. The research library has a large collection of scientific works – including the history of science, race, Enlightenment etc. – and is open from 9am-7pm most days (1pm on Tuesday), while the Salle de Réserve is open only from 2-6pm Monday-Friday. The atmosphere is pretty relaxed and lockers are only used in the Salle de Réserve.
Consulting the library’s archives takes a bit of planning. The archival catalogue is accessible through Calames (http://www.calames.abes.fr/pub/), and it is necessary to book the material at least the day before you wish to view it – either through email or in person at the desk. However, some collections require special permission to view. In my case these were the archives of the Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, and the process was very easy. I emailed the society and explained in a few lines who I was and why I wanted to view the collections, and they emailed the library granting their permission.
Once your material is ready to view, introduce yourself to the archivist, who will give you a key to a locker in which to deposit bags/pens etc. Photography (non-flash) is allowed. The archivists were all very friendly and clearly cared about the collections; some were sticklers for protocol and only allowed the consultation of one folio at a time, while others sometimes gave me the entire box. This should go without saying, but if you respect the collections and the rules you are granted more leeway – politeness and a smile go a long way.
I found there was always space to work in the research library (with or without ordering books), and it was very quiet. The area itself is a lot of fun and near many of the major research libraries and archives (with the major exceptions of the modern sites of the Archives nationales). The nearest metro stops are Jussieu (7 &10) and Gare d’Austerlitz (10).
Ian Stewart (LSE) is a third year PhD student researching Celtic ideas in Britain and France in the long nineteenth century. Today, he’s writing about the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle