Getting a Library Card

Or, I'm getting too old when the library becomes cool

If I came around today, like I normally do, and told you that there was a nearly free way of accessing over a thousand English books, getting to keep them for a few weeks, return them with no obligation or commitment, and to do this repeatedly and without limit, you'd probably say the same thing you always say to me: "Get off my #$!@%!?! couch, man."

Well, this time I swear I'm right. After lazily considering the alternatives to buying expensive books in English in a multi-level, annoyingly narrow-aisled store in the city center, I came up with the following:

a) Begin a cartel trading illegal paperbacks over a secret spy intranet system.

b) Lose my eyes in a tragic disco accident, therefore relegating myself to not reading, or...

c) Take the relatively simple journey to the Municipal Library of Prague, located at Mariánské Náměstí in Staré Město (Old Town), and get a library card.

My lethargy led me to choice C as quickly as it always did during multiple choice tests at university. So, let's go.

The Place

Municipal Library of Prague (Městská knihovna v Praze), Mariánské Náměstí 1, Staré Město, Prague 1. They're open from 9am to 8pm, Tuesday through Friday, and from 10am to 5pm on Saturdays.

The Cost

For an adult one-year membership, it costs 80 CZK. (20 CZK for the registration fee, and 60 CZK for the year's membership; every year after that, it's only 60 CZK.)

The Deal

Membership includes books, CDs and internet access. Books can be taken out in unlimited quantities (providing you have one of those cool lumberjack-plaid carts that the grandmas wheel around), for 28 days. CDs can be borrowed for only 14 days, but you can check out up to 20 discs at a time. The late charge for books and CDs is 3 CZK per item per day, but when the library is closed (Sundays, Mondays, and public holidays), late charges don't apply. The internet can be used for up to 30 minutes at a time, providing no one's waiting, but can only be accessed by showing your library card. The card, however, is issued immediately upon registration.

The Catch

You know about Catch-22? Yes, nothing is as easy as you'd hope. There are three ways of getting a library card. The first is to show proof of some type of long-term visa, like a one-year residency permit or a student visa. The second is to put down a returnable 1,000 CZK deposit, to ensure that no theft, defacement, or sexual misconduct with any book or CD occurs. And the last option, which I chose, is to get a Czech library cardholder to sponsor you, so that they're responsible for any explicitly compromised CDs instead of your loot. Also, remember to bring your passport, as no other form of identification will be accepted.

This is easily the best, cheapest, and most sensible way of acquiring English-language books in Prague. The hours are kind of crappy, but certainly better than some municipal offices. And as prices continue to rise at Prague bookstores, I'd suggest this as a good alternative to drugging the security guard at Palác Luxor and belaying from the roof at 3am. (It hurts the shins.)


Městská knihovna v Praze (Municipal Library in Prague)

Mariánské nám. 1, Prague 1

Phone: (+420) 223 113 111

Metro: Staroměstská (line A)

Tram: 17, 18, 53 (stop: Staroměstská)


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