Note: For the second part of this article covering libraries on the right bank of the Vltava river click here.
My team for this project was made up of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old. Our first mission was to visit every central city library branch on this side of the Vltava – in one day. Next, we will hit the major branches on the other side – including the Christian Library – which is mostly English – and the brand new children’s collection at the Korunní branch, which grew to its current size thanks to the many donations from people like you and me.
On our quest we discovered cool and inspiring decor, friendly librarians, and even found a few books. I have two goals when visiting a Czech library:
-> Find good English language books, because my kids go through books fast and we always need more new stuff for story time.
-> Find books that will make learning the Czech language more fun. We were quite impressed with some branches, others not so much.
I’m not evaluating the quality of the Czech collections, just how well they cater to foreign children, and how child-friendly the facilities are in general. And I have to start out by saying I’m delighted that they even have non-Czech kids books. Things can only get better from here.
Find your local branch here. Most of them will have an Oddělení pro děti a mládež or Children and Youth Department. This article was written during the rainy month of August, so check the hours that they aren’t the Summer hours I’ve listed. Summer Opening hours posted here are effective until August 28th, then the branches open up more days of the week. This article will be updated to reflect this.
NTK – National Technical Library
Technická 6, Prague 6
Opening Hours: Mo: 12.00-19.00, Tue-Fri: 9.00-19.00, Sat: 10.00-17.00
This new building is home to a public library, as well as academic collections. The entrance to the city library is on the first floor in the corner. Walk up the stairs to reach the kids section. This is a large, colorful area with color-coded bookshelves, funky plastic dogs, and a play area with, among other things, a table built for some sort of math game.
The whole floor is dedicated to youth literature, and there are a lot of books for older foreign-language readers, too. Look out for the shelves labelled Cizojazyčná literatura pro děti, which is further broken out in to Angličtina (English), Nemčina (German), and more. Another helpful shelf is one labelled Jazykověda. These are in Czech, but with some guidance they can be helpful in teaching non-Czech children Czech language skills.
There are drawers with some Czech music CDs, great for expat kids who are adjusting to Czech schools or preschools. A good kids department is one that has some separation from quieter parts of the library. Here, the only other department on this floor is the magazine lounge, large and airy with comfy chairs, so parents can take a rest while kids browse.
Events: Starting September, every first Tuesday of the month is a story-inspired crafts workshop.
Parking: Finding free parking in front of the building is usually not a problem
Milady Horákové 56/387, Praha 7
Opening Hours: Tue: 9.00-19.00, Wed: 12.00-19.00, Thur: 12.00-19.00, Fri: 9.00-15.00
In this branch, the children section occupies the first floor. It’s a convenient place to nip in when you’re in the Letná area, once you find some parking. One warm days, you can sit outside. The foreign language section is just one shelf big. In every branch you will find some version of Czech Fairy Tales, in English, and this is a great place to begin. There seem to be an awful lot of pre-teen romance books from the series “Lovestories 4 Girls” but if that’s what kids are in to, whatever. It does seem like the assortment of books here are castoffs, as opposed to books actively recruited by a librarian team in touch with kids today.
Events: The Letná branch offers a story hour, Středa s Pohádkou, every first Wednesday of the month at 17.00
Parking: Parking’s not great in Letná for non-residents.
Pohořelec 25/111, Praha 1
Opening Hours: Mon-Thur: 12.00-17.00, Fri: 10.00-15.00
This small branch is easy to miss. You need to walk through the wooden arch next to a lekarna, take the left-hand stairs up a floor and then you can enter. It’s a nice branch, and the children’s area is right next to the librarian’s desk as you enter. The nice thing about it was the ceramic kids art showcased on the bookshelves and tables – these were made by the youth art club next door. But the collection itself didn’t have much for foreigners. I counted 15 titles on the Cizojazycna (foreign language) literature shelf, including books to help Czech kids learn English. The rest were made up of the same First Picture Dictionary books that all branches seem to have. I would give this branch a miss, unless you are game to use it as a base for ordering better books that exist elsewhere in the system.
Parking: Plenty of pay parking in front.
Bělohorská 56/1666, Praha 6
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 9.00-19.00, Sat: 9.00-12.00
This branch, located near the entrance to the Smichov tunnel, has a large children’s room, with plants, cute furniture and globes. It’s cute, modern and colorful. A whole bookshelf there is marked with Cizojazycna lit. but the books themselves held little promise. Your best bet is to find a book like Jakapaka Smula, which has the English version of the same story in the same book. Such books make it possible to first learn the story, then read it in Czech, and challenging your child to guess what the Czech words mean. But the books themselves don’t make use of colorful illustrations or very engaging writing.
The books are typical of how kids books were written a generation ago. A fine example is the book titled “How Things Are Nowadays” – copyrighted in 1978. Now, if libraries want to attract younger readers, and instill in them a love of reading and learning, they need to do better than this. I don’t want my kids learning how things are nowadays from a writer who was listening to the Doobie Brothers on an 8-track while writing.
Parking: You should be able to find a free spot in the area.
Musílkova 68/325, Praha 5
Opening Hours: Tue: 9.00-19.00, Thur: 12.00-19.00
This is a place you just happen upon – you need to hunt for it. Located on the hills off Plzeňská, in a quiet residential area, it’s probably only worth coming here if you live in the area. The great thing about this branch is that the children’s collection is housed in a separate building altogether from the rest of the library. As a parent, it’s nice knowing your kids excitement over books isn’t going to annoy someone trying to read in the next aisle over. So here, they have a 2-room haven to reading, decorated with a flying witch and a vodnik. The librarian who was there when we dropped in was helpful with my quest to find books to help little ones learn Czech. She admitted there were no books that she knew of in the system, and that the whole concept of foreign kids wanting to learn Czech was too recent and so no one had written much for such kids yet.
The Cibulka collection was made up 6 titles, 5 in English (two of these were the same book) and one in German. So we hastened away, but not before picking up a Land Before Time book written in Czech. I’ve learned you can leverage your child’s interest in certain characters they know from favorite American cartoons and use it to make them more interested in reading Czech. This only works if you can actually read the text, and be able to translate for them. Or play the game, where you make up your own story – this works for us. Next door is a cukrarna, so if you want to reward your child for finding some good books and being respectful in the library, it’s convenient to do.
Parking: Parking right in front is free and plentiful.
Náměstí 14. října 15/83, Praha 5
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri: 9.00-19.00, Sat: 9.00-15.00
This branch has it all – the younger kids have a fun spacious area with floor pillows and a carousel-like display case full of hardback baby books, and they offer crafts workshops regularly. Voices do carry here, and the wide open space adds to this acoustic situation. Upstairs from the wee kids area is a youth reading lounge. The English foreign language offerings is easily accommodated on one shelf of the book case labelled Cizojazyčná Beletrie. Here we found still more copies of “The Dog Next Door” and “Doggie and Pussycat.” I’m conflicted on this series from beloved Czech writer Josef Čapek. It’s great to translate classics to English, but these translations are awkward – missing articles, and much-too-wordy titles, such as: “A Doggie and a Pussycat – How They Were Making a Cake.” Why not just call it – “Doggie and Pussycat Make a Cake”? After all, books influence the way kids speak, and while I want them speaking Czech, I don’t want their English “Czechified” too much if I can help it.
Parking: Paid parking is available just in front.
Ortenovo náměstí 37, Praha 7
Opening Hours: Tue: 9.00-19.00, Wed-Thur: 12.00-19.00, Fri: 9.00-15.00
This branch is located on the back side of Ortenovo square, and it isn’t easy to spot. Once you’ve found the city library’s logo you walk inside and then down a hall to get to the children’s department. Again, it’s far enough away from the “serious” part of the library and that’s great for kids and their happy, loud voices. To encourage reading, there’s a large, round platform with pillows. The foreign offerings are scant, the best option was a book/DVD combo displayed in a locked glass case – “Angličtina pro děti”. Like many of the titles, it’s not geared towards helping English speaking kids learn Czech, but I’ve fond that with some creative guidance you can reverse-engineer your way into a Czech lesson based on the material provided.
Parking: Street parking for free should be no problem in this area, which feels almost deserted.