For an updated version (from 2011) please click here .
Written by Melissa Deerson
As a quiet haven on a rainy day, a way of accessing the books that you miss from home, or a source of free internet, Prague´s libraries are an ideal option. The following places are cheap to join, easily negotiable by a non-native speaker, contain a wide range of English-language books, and will give you a great introduction to the venerable world of Czech libraries.
Address: Klementinum 190, Prague 1
Opening hours: Main Hall and Reference Centre: Mon-Sat 9am-7pm; General Reading Room: Mon-Fri 9am-10pm & Sat 9am-7pm
Tram lines 17 & 18, and Metro Line A (Staroměstská).
Don´t be intimidated by its academic reputation – Klementinum is a bustling library with an extensive English fiction collection and a canteen that wafts a smell of deep-frying through the foyer.
Like many libraries in Prague, you have to become a member to be able to access the library itself. At Klementinum, you join in the Main Hall, a bright, plant filled room to the right of the cloak-room desk. To be able to borrow books and take them home, you will need official proof of either temporary or permanent residency in CZ, as well as your passport or driver´s licence. If you don´t have residency, you can still become a member but you can only use books within the library. It costs 100 CZK for a year´s membership, and 10 CZK for a library card, with a 10 CZK replacement fee if you lose it. You can also get a day pass for 10 CZK. The Main Hall is also where you can use the electronic catalogue to search for books and order them if you need to.
The most likely place you will want to visit is the General Reading Room. It is to the right once you have gone through the security gates, and through an ornate ante-room and heavy wooden door. This room has large number of mostly non-fiction books, many of them in English, which you can take straight off the shelves and read at the lamp-lit desks. If you´re feeling more inclined to modernity, the Reading Room also has Wi-Fi. Even if you don´t want to use the books, it´s worth having a look inside, if just for the huge old ceramic stove that stands to your left as you enter and which took the chill off many a scholar in days gone by.
The Reference Centre, to your left once you go through the security doors, is one of the more modern rooms in the complex, and if you don´t have a computer or a laptop at home this is a good place to browse the internet for an hour or so. To use the computers, the best way is to go to the Main Hall and book one at the PCs there. You then go to the Reference Centre, give the staff your card and they will tell you which computer is yours for the hour. Otherwise, if you only want to use a pc for a little while, you can simply ask at the desk if they have any free computers, and they will assign you one until someone else needs it. Don´t just walk in and sit at any pc, or you will be pounced upon very quickly by the diligent staff and removed from your spot!
Tip: If you lose your cloak-room number, you can pay a 50 CZK fee and get your coat back – however, the cloak-room attendants will be a lot more willing to help you if you can remember either your number or where they hung your stuff up, so it´s a good idea to pay attention when you check it in, just in case!
MUNICIPAL LIBRARY – MĚSTSKÁ KNIHOVNA
Address: Marianske Naměsti, 1/98 Praha 1
Sunday & Monday: Closed
Tram lines 17, 18 & 53, and Metro Line A (Staroměstská).
If you´re looking for a sociable, kid-friendly library in the centre of town, the Municipal Library is the place for you. It´s a busy, modern place, and is the main library in a group of 48 branches dotted about Prague which offer similar services. You don´t have to be a member to go in and look around, but if you do register you can borrow books from most of the libraries in the network, so it´s probably worth doing.
The system is divided into AL (Automated Libraries) and NL (non-Automated Libraries) – if you join at an NL, you can only borrow books from that particular branch, but if you join at an AL, you can borrow from any of the other ALs. There is a list of all the branches and their status as either AL or NL on the Municipal Library website. To join, you need identification like a drivers licence or passport, and official proof of your long-term or permanent residency. If you don´t have proof of residence, you can pay a 1,000 CZK deposit and gain borrowing rights that way. The registration fee is 80 CZK in an Automated Library or 40 CZK in a Non-Automated Library, for a one year membership. Children under 15 can join for free.
You can borrow books, magazines, newspapers, maps, CDs and cassettes, and the Municipal Library has a good selection of non-fiction in English, especially in the extensive art section upstairs, as well as an English fiction section. It´s on the far right wall as you enter, just past the information desk, with a selection ranging from Don DeLillo to Dickens and Austen. Unfortunately there are no young children´s books in English, but you can find books like Robinson Crusoe and Little Women in the above-mentioned fiction section. There are also laptop Internet connections and internet access on the PCs for library members.
Tip: To find out where your local municipal library is or to search the online catalogue (which is in Czech but is easy to navigate), go to www.mlp.cz/english.
KNIHOVNA AKADEMIE VĚD – ACADEMY OF SCIENCES LIBRARY
Address: Národní Třida 3, Praha 1
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 9am-7pm
Trams 6, 9, 17, 22, 23, and Metro Lines A, (Můstek station), and B (Národní Třida).
This must be one of the prettiest libraries in Prague. An old Česká Spořitelna bank building, it has a huge hall with ornate archways, pink marble lamp-posts, spiral staircases, and gold everywhere. The books are housed around the edges while the centre is filled with desks for reading and Internet connections for laptops. You can´t borrow from this library but it has a nice atmosphere for reading and a great selection of English-language encyclopedias, art, politics, science and history books. It also has an interesting range of journals and periodicals, all of which you can take straight off the shelves yourself, as well as a huge number of books that can be requested and which take from a few hours to a few days to become available for collection. To enter the library you can join using ID like your passport or driver´s licence, which costs either 120 CZK for a year with access to books, magazines and periodicals, or 320 CZK if you want to use the internet as well, or you can buy a day pass for 10 CZK.
Tip: The keyboards on the PCs in the library are permanently set on the Czech layout and alphabet, so you might have some trouble with typing and spelling!