Surrounded by France and its Mediterranean port, this mountainous principality is a quick train trip from Nice, as long as the French national rail company isn’t having a grève (strike) day as it was when I visited…
Monaco maintains 78 lifts, 35 escalators and eight travelators so getting around on foot isn’t quite as exhausting as it would seem. The station is perched in the upper part town, so we took an outdoor ascenseur to the lower level then strolled down a brick tiled pedestrian way passing abundant foliage and shady benches to Bibliothèque Louis Notari (BLN), number eight on a short rue of the same appellation.
BLN is one of three locations comprising the Médiathèque de Monaco and has the majority of the nonfiction and popular reading materials. The Sonothèque José Notari-vidèothèque in Villa Lamartine has some periodicals about music but is dedicated to sound and vision so mainly carries DVDs and CDs. Scholars make appointments to peruse the archives, Fonds Patrimonial at L’Helios.
Marble steps lead to a pleasant foyer housing a water cooler and a stand of brochures. On one side, set off by potted plants, a stone and bronze plaque honors Louis Notari, the native poet, grammarian and lyricist (he wrote the words to the anthem) for whom this branch was named in 1980.
Blandine welcomed me warmly and I noticed a case of new livres and a couple of cabinets devoted to English books (there are Italian libri as well) in the spacious lobby by the main desk.
I started my tour upstairs amidst tidy offices, nonfiction and students hard at work.
The facility has a spacious modern feel with bright colors, carpet tiles and clear overhead signage. Atop the manga shelves, back issues of comic books are neatly stored in orange Lucite boxes by the romans jeunesse for teens.
The library has wifi and public internet access and the web page links to the catalog, staff favorites, new acquisitions, video and music on demand, training, ebooks and online resources. Their presse numérique (digital press) has 1600 titles.
On Facebook, banners promote upcoming functions or tout recent additions, and shots show singers and violinists and rapt audiences listening to jazz or garage bands.
Shelf ends feature whimsical artwork, royal portraits, Dewey posters and recycling bins and in a corner I spotted an intriguing chair.
I should have tried it, but like this beanbag, I was too chicken to face the possible loss of dignity.
His Serene Highness Prince Albert I started the country’s bibliothèque in 1909 and it became the national library and legal depository in 2006.
The local history in Le Fonds Régional is greatly enhanced by several important personal bequests of ephemera, correspondence, first editions etc. Precious volumes include over 700 artists’ books (new to me, any bibliophile will find them fascinating). Avant-garde art is a specialization and they conserve ancient manuscripts and everything printed in Monaco. Monégasque, a dialect of Ligurian, which itself is a tongue from the Gallo-Romance arm of Romance languages, is certainly rare enough to warrant diligent preservation tactics.
An attractive brochure maps out where to find them in the city and promotes their Ateliers (workshops), spectacles (shows), rencontres littéraires and cinéma. Membership is 20 euro for ten years for adults and students and over sixties pay just half that fee.
The microstate is small enough that it’s not too taxing to be in three separate buildings, still there is some inconvenience, so in three to four years they will be combined. The huge construction hole drivers see near the stadium when entering town will be a gorgeous new 50,000 square foot bibliothèque with 60,000 books, 34,000 CDs, 9000 DVDs and a secteur jeunesse! (youth room).
Currently, children’s services are managed via national education, rather than the mayor, and the only one not in a school is Bibliothèque Princesse Caroline – Ludothèque for kids over three years old. During term time, youngsters can join for 8€ and take out three books for 15 days and go to various activities or for 16€ borrow two toys or games from the toy library.
My French is awful, but several staffers had much better English. Fanny was a great translator and we chatted for a bit. Though not necessary for employment, she agreed having a university degree helps and told me they each have specialties. Among other things, she does art history. Ghislaine handles administrative tasks and knows all about new arrivals and Nathalie, my charming email contact, is responsible for collection development and the plethora of visual paperbacks. She also handles the catalog and technology and is implementing a new website and software in June 2018.
Despite the language barrier, everyone was so friendly and I received an awesome tote bag, informative flyers and two homegrown publications – La Presse, which introduced me to the term Mook (a hybrid of magazines and books!), and a beautiful pamphlet produced for BLN’s Centenaire highlighting some of its treasures.
Down here, the glossy floor reflects waist high consoles perfect for flipping through graphic novels. The spiffy black and white design complements the mauve walls and muted lighting. Like the little metal display racks offering recommendations, some are on wheels allowing for flexibility in furniture arrangements. Bushes outside slatted windows cast a green glow and pretty silkscreens further enhance the decor.
Besides the typical audiovisual materials, the library buys opera, concert and theatre DVDs and puts on events to appease the cultural tastes of Monacans. In fact it’s one of the few places where I’ve seen speakers above the stacks (necessary because they do have musical entertainment and show movies in the reading area).
Programs include teas and cultural cycles on different countries. Enjoy a picnic lunch while listening to Jeff Beck’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl at the Sonothèque or marvel at La Danse Khatak par Priscilla Gauri, a classical Indian performance hosted in collaboration with Ballets de Monte-Carlo. You can attend monthly lectures discussing famous photographers (pairing images and music selections) or conferences, films, writing seminars, author appearances or bring your whole family for a fun multigenerational craft night.
The Médiathèque presents frequent exhibitions and owns most of the output of painter Henri Maccheroni. It concentrates on Dada and Surrealism and has numerous journals covering these movements.
Employees teach monthly introduction to internet classes and help patrons learn to download and stream and the library also participates in joint ventures with other organizations such as the annual launch of Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco’s reading marathon (people review and vote for the winner of its literary prize).
All told, citizens can choose from close to half a million items.
Quite impressive for a land of 500 acres and less than 40,000 people!