Where to find books around campus and in Paris?
Whether you're doing some research and needing some specific resources, or if you're simply looking for something to read during weekends, there are plenty of options for you around campus, as well as in Paris. Here are a few:
This may seem obvious, but it is often easy to overlook the school's large collection of academic resources. While you won't typically find your Sunday morning read there, it the place to find materials about specific scientific topics, course archives and academic journals. You will obviously find a vast array of publications about many topics in mathematics, but also physics, engineering and economics. Most course content archives are forseeably written in French, though it is still readily possible to find English publications, as well as foreign language manuals.
It is easy to see all this for yourself: the library is open from 8:30am to 9pm during the week, and between 9am and 4pm on Saturdays. If you're looking for something sepcific, you can try your luck with their search engine. Note that you will need to fill out a badge extension form to be able to borrow books (for a month, extensions are allowed), though this usually gets done in reasonable amounts of time.
Location: south side of the main hall, main building
If one academic library wasn't enough, how about 40 more? You've read this right, the famous institution and its myriad of partner universities are giving everyone free access to their enormous collection of documents all year round. You will find a map of all the locations on this page, note that the collections are very specialised and that you will oftentimes have to visit a specific library the deeper you go into a subject. This is not the case of every library, Orsay for instance regroups a large collection of a wide range of topics. The closest location from campus is the Institut d'Optique graduate school, in which you will mainly find books about signal processing, engineering sciences and, well, optics.
If you are looking for engineering or biology-related resources, the new Paris-Saclay campus a few minutes away by bus from l'X is also a very good option. It already comprises 7 distinct libraries from the various institutions there (SupElec, ENS PS, Centrale Supelec, AgroParisTech), but soon will open the humongous Lumen learning center, in which the plateau's 60,000 students will be able to read and study 24/7. Definitely something to look out for!
In terms of language, more general introductory publications in those libraries tend to be written as much in French as English, though more specialised topics are most often written about in English. You will be able to borrow most books for about a month for free, though you will need to create an account, depending on the different universities' partnerships with l'X.
Location: all around the plateau and beyond, closest one on campus near the laboratories building. Take the 91.10/91.06 bus from Ensta stop away from Massy and get off at Moulon for the 7 libraries on the Paris-Saclay campus.
The national library (BNF): Bibliothèque François Mitterand
The BNF hosts about 14 million books about every topic you would ever want to know more about (it is the 9th biggest in the world by catalogued size). It takes about 1h20 by RER (B and change to C at Notre Dame) to get there, so it is best to plan a Saturday trip and stay there for a while if you want to check it out. The library is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 to 20, and Mondays from 14 to 20. The main building hosts the public library, which in itself encompasses several sections called "Salles de lecture" (Reading rooms), depending on the topic:
salle A: Audiovisual
salle B: Press and media
salle C: Science and technology
salle D: Law, economics, politics
salle E: Bibliographic research, books, libraries
salle F: Arts
salle G: Foreign literature
salle H: French literature
salle I: Children's Literature
salle J: Philosophy, history, human sciences
Access to the public library is free for us students, you will be given a card that is valid for 4 years for your subsequent visits. Note that you cannot borrow books from there, though there are plenty of tables with power outlets and a good wifi connection that should allow you to work as needed. There are also several options to have lunch if you're planning to stay for the day.
There is also a much more comprehensive research library, though the signup process is very convoluted, and supposedly requires you to show up for an interview with the librarians. In most cases, this is unnecessary, especially when having access to the Paris-Saclay libraries cited above.
On top of that, the BNF hosts a very large collection of publicly accessible newspapers and magazines from around the world; you will be able to read the latest Chilean newspaper issue or have a look at military plane magazines from China, if that's your thing, and it is also one of the many places in Paris which give you access to Pressreader (see below).
Location: Quai François Mauriac, 75706 Paris, take RER B from Lozère to Notre Dame, then C to François Mitterand Library.
This is worth knowing about if you like reading various newspapers and magazines without having to subscribe or go to a library. Pressreader is an app that gives you access to 70,000 publications in 60 different languages. By visiting places like the BNF or Novotel hotels for instance, the app allows you to browse all those for a week (and more if you download the issues), and this is renewable as many times as you want. There is no need to sign up, all you need to do is connect to the wifi of one of their partner places. There are 100+ of those in Paris itself, which you can find out about on the map in the app. Obviously, this doesn't quite replace the feel of a real newspaper or magazine, but it is quite handy if you just want to keep in the loop, or especially if using full-text search is useful to you for research. Good to know!
Location: refer to this to see the closest partner locations
For everything else that isn't too specialised, you will have no troubles finding bookshops around Paris, though since the popularity of English language books is quite recent, here are a couple of suggestions:
Shakespeare and company
Shakespeare & Co is arguably the most famous independent English-language bookshop in the world. It is located on the Seine's left bank, opposite to the Notre-Dame cathedral, about 45 mins away from campus by RER. The institution dates back to a century ago, when an American expatriate set up shop to what would become a gathering place for many famous writers such as Pound, Hemingway, Joyce and Fitzgerald.
The shop is open every day from 12pm to 7:30pm. You will find all your typical books on the ground floor, most especially essays and novels, with also quite an interesting poetry collection. Don't forget to check out the upstairs area; you will be able to lounge around in old furniture reading old books in front of one of Paris' most stunning views on the Seine. If you're lucky you might even enjoy live piano performances by one of the shop's few regulars. Do note that you will often have to queue outside before going in, especially towards 4-5pm.
Check out this article to know more about Shakespeare & Co's history.
Location: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, Take RER B from Lozère to Notre Dame, exit 3 Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
Book Off Châtelet
If you haven't heard of it before, Book Off is Japan's biggest second-hand bookshop chain. Not only will you find a wide variety of books (always in good condition), the store also sells old CDs, DVDs, vinyles, mangas, video games, board games etc. What's more, most are sold for 1€!
From experience, go there if you're looking for something light to read during weekends or vacations, or if you're really not set on anything specific: you will often find books about anything but what you were looking for! Note that this is also the perfect place to go to if you're willing to get rid of your own books or anything else they're selling that's listed above, bring it to them, they will give you back some money, on the criteria that the item is still in good shape. If you're looking for a specific Japanese manga or art book, they also set up a specific service to get it imported straight from Japan, all you have to do is to fill out the form.
Location: 9 Rue Saint-Martin, 75004 Paris, take RER B to Les Halles, and walk the rest of the distance. The neighbourhood is perfect to have lunch or dinner since it's packed with restaurants and food courts.
The Abbey bookshop
This one is just a short walk from Shakespeare & Co, and has become quite the epicenter for the Canadian community in Paris since its opening in the 90s. Even though it thus offers a large collection of Canadian literature, you will also find 35,000 English-language books on a wide range of topics. The shop itself is located on rue de la Parcheminerie, previously named rue des Escrivains, where the scribes and scriveners who were the heart of the Parisian book trade until parchmentmakers replaced them in the late Middle Ages.
Aside from all the time you may spend looking through all of the shop's overflowing shelves, you will also be able to enjoy a free cup of “Canadian” coffee, made with a healthy dose of maple syrup.
Location: 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris, just a few streets down from Shakespeare & Co.
Boulinier at Les Halles
Another inexpensive second-hand shop like Book Off, though ideally located right next to the big shopping center called Les Halles, where the RER stop is also situated. There is really nothing much to be said about the place or the books themselves, though note that the prices often drop as low as 25 cents, if you're willing to stock up without ruining yourselves!
Location: Pl. Joachim du Bellay, 75001 Paris
Galignani is definitely one of the oldest bookshops in Paris; it was opened in 1801 on rue Vivienne, but has now been relocated on the famous rue Rivoli. The shop itself has large windows, high ceilings, is very neatly decorated, and hosts a large collection of English and French fiction and non-fiction books alike, though it is most famous for its art books selection.
There are also a lot of small cafes and tea gardens in this area that provide the perfect spot to dive into your new purchases. Just don’t save your book shopping for a Sunday because Galignani takes this day off.
Location: 224 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, walk from Les Halles or take metro #14 from the BNF.
WHSmith is an all encompassing little book shop in the 1st arrondissement, just a few meters from the Louvre. It is three stories high and basically has everything you could possibly need from a book shop.
The shop is open seven days a week, which is impressive for Paris as most businesses enjoy at least one day off. On top of a large collection of fiction and non-fiction (both English and French), the store also features over 500 international press titles that are available for purchase.
Location: 248 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, same as Galignani to get there.
Here are two more options I could not quite reasonably fit into this article:
- San Francisco Book Company: open 24/7/365, with a strong sense of community, and close to many of the capital's tapas restaurants too! 17 Rue Monsieur Le Prince
- Berkeley Books: mainly Californian authors and close to the Luxembourg gardens, they also host regular musical gigs and friendly talk shows. 8 Rue Casimir Delavigne
Finally, if you are also an avid reader of French literature, or if you're simply looking to perfect your knowledge of the language, plenty of other options are also worth mentioning such as:
- Tschann: typical French bookshop, with a large collection of philosophy and politics essays. Very famous amongst locals. 125 Rue Boulevard Montparnasse
- Librairie du Marais: many sci-fi and cooking books, as well as architecture catalogues. 89 Rue Saint-Antoine
- Taschen: close to Sait-Germain-des-Prés, has many photography catalogues and a large collection of French fictional novels. 2 rue de Buci