Whether you read for pleasure or need to do research, Prague’s libraries offer a surprising amount of material in English and other languages.
Municipal Library of Prague
Comprised of 42 branches and two mobile libraries, the Municipal Library of Prague, or MLP, serves Prague inhabitants’ reading needs and more.
The central library is located on Mariánské náměstí, down from Old Town Square going toward the Vltava, or around the block from Staroměstská metro station.
The library’s English-language collection, which has works from poetry to graphic novels, is found in the eastern wing of the building. Turn right just after you walk in the internal entrance, and go past the new book display. You’ll see an information desk. The English-language books are just behind.
Along with its many books, the library also has other materials available in English, including CDs, a number of magazines in English, and a computer room located up a small flight of stairs. For the computers, it is usually required to book in advance for a specific period.
When borrowing, you take your selection to the desk before the exit. Usually, there is one queue for both librarians. Just hand over your card and the books you wish to borrow. If you have any unpaid fees (reservations or late returns), you can’t borrow until this is paid. Extending a loan couldn’t be easier: just go to your account online and click on ‘prodloužit‘.
Like many large public buildings, the central library has a cloak check, which is right of the main stairs. The service is free of charge and you are expected to leave coats, bags and other large items there.
At the moment, the English catalogue is still an old version. If your search term is successful, the page will display a list of entries.
To find which library the item is in, click on volumes. A small box will pop up with the branch or branches on the left. On the right are the following abbreviations: pA, pP, cA and R.
pA gives the number of volumes in the library at that time
pP gives the number which can be used only in the library
cA shows number which can be checked out
R tells you how many reservations
If there is a zero in pA column and a number in the cA column, then the book is currently out.
For those who can read Czech, I’d recommend using the new version because it allows you to filter your choices by choosing the language, medium, and library. Plus, the information about the books is presented in a more logical manner.
Books in the central library with a code starting AG is in the aforementioned English-language section. If it starts with another letter, it will be in one of the non-fiction sections. The Prague Municipal Library uses its own classification system. If you’re having trouble, ask one of the librarians for help.
If the book is located at one of the other branches, then it will be similar for non-fiction. Fiction titles may be shelved with other fiction titles. Incidentally, if you do borrow a book from one of the suburban branches, you can return it to the central library (or any other branch).
Reservations and Ordering Books from the Storeroom
To make a reservation, open the window by clicking on ‘volumes’, logging in, ticking the box, and then confirming on the next window. On the new Czech system, you reserve by clicking on the button ‘půjčit si’; the rest is easy to follow. The reservation fee is 10 CZK, which must be paid at the cashier (pokladna, located to the left of the internal entrance) before collecting the book. Reserved books are issued from the rear desk where you present your card. However, they still must be borrowed from the front desk as any other book.
If the book is in the storeroom, you have to order it on the Koniáš system by clicking on ‘objednat’. Afterwards, a number will appear. It takes about 15 minutes for the book to be retrieved. You just wait for your number to be shown on the board above the rear desk. Some books which are held in the storeroom can be loaned out.
Membership is refreshingly straightforward. Just take proof of ID (passport or ID card) plus 80 CZK to the cashier.. If you aren’t an EU citizen, or don’t have permanent residency, you’ll also have to pay a 1000 CZK deposit, which is returned when your membership expires. OpenCard can be used as a library card, which reduces the initial fee from 80 CZK to 60 CZK. Membership is for one year. Renewing your membership costs 60 CZK.
Czech Language Courses
The library also runs Czech-language classes. There are two levels. The first, a low-threshold class, costs 50 CZK for 90 minutes and his held at the Smichov branch (náměstí 14. října 15, near metro stop Anděl). The courses start from 4th August and there is no registration. A free course for advanced learners takes place on Thursdays from 16:00 at the Stodůlky branch. There is a maximum of 10 people per class and you have to contact the library in advance to reserve placement (see link above for contact person and email address).
Located in the Klementinum, across from the central branch of the Municipal Library, the National Library is a valuable tool for anyone doing research in the Czech Republic, and is more useful to students and scholars than people looking for holiday reading.
Membership is 100 CZK. When signing up you have to provide ID with your permanent address. For residents, this is not a problem. If you don’t have long-term residency then someone will have to sponsor you. As with the Municipal Library, membership is swift and you obtain your card within minutes of submitting your form.
Most of the books and materials are available for use only in the reading room. You can order a book online by using one of the searches under ‘Find’ on the main page. If your title is in, click on the book icon to see if it is available. This information is under ‘Item Status’ and can be either ‘to the reading room’ or ‘for 30 days’, the latter meaning it can be loaned out. You then click ‘add to basket’, after which you have the option of leaving a note. For example the time you would like the book for. It’s a good idea to give a couple of hours for the retrieval of an item. Of course, you have to be logged in to do all of this.
The library also has a database for newspapers and journals. The newspapers and journals are found in the periodicals reading room on the second floor. Depending on the publication, you can wait a couple of minutes to a few hours. The librarian will tell you.
Photocopiers are located near the reading room and in the newspaper collection room. To use it you’ll need to obtain a card, which is possible by swapping some other type of card – like your health insurance card if necessary.
If you have any other queries, visit the library’s website, where you’ll find everything in English.
Like the central library, the National Library has a coat check just after the information booth.
National Technical Library
As with the National Library, the National Technical Library is mostly for those doing research. Also there is not much to add, as their website really covers everything from membership to interlibrary loans. You do not have to be a member to use some of the services, but you do have to obtain a visitor’s day pass.
If you’re especially interested in American history and politics, the American Center (Tržiště 13, Malá Strana) has a small but very useful library which is open to the public from 13:00 to 16:00, Monday to Thursday. Most of the books deal with American issues. One of the advantages of this library is that they stock books not held at the other libraries. They also have a very wide range of magazines and journals in English. Books can be borrowed for a month but magazines can only be read in the library. They have free computer and photocopier use – they just request people are reasonable with these resources. Click on the above link to access their catalogue and see a list of films they have available.
The American Center also runs a number of cultural events through the years. For example, 3rd August from 19:00, the center celebrates the work of Ernest Hemingway. Fans are asked to bring their favorite work by the great American writer. Every Friday at 15:00, the center screens a documentary in English.
Languages Other than English
If you’re interested in books in languages other than Czech or English, there are a few options. The Municipal Library also has collections in German, French, Slovakian and Russian. You will also find books in a range of languages in the National Library.
If you have a particular language in mind, you might want to consult with the various language centers around Prague.
The French Institute in Prague has a library as part of its information center where books, magazines, CDs, and films can be borrowed.
Instituto Cervantes has a similar service for those interested in Spanish.
What are your thoughts on Prague’s libraries?