The Municipal Library of Prague marks its 130th anniversary on Thursday. The Public General Library of the Royal Capital of Prague, as it was called in the old days, opened to the citizens of Prague on July 1, 1891. Today, it has 44 branches around the city and offers more than 1700,000 items, including books, maps, newspapers and ebooks.
The Central Municipal Library is situated on the Marian Square in the heart of the Old Town, but its first seat, established in 1891, was actually located in a former prison building on Na Zderaze Street in the New Town. According to the Municipal Library’s director, Tomáš Řehák, there were many libraries available in the country by that time.
“You could say that Prague was rather underdeveloped in this respect. For instance the district of Smíchov, which was then an independent town, had its municipal library thirty years before Prague. At that time, many public associations were calling on the city authorities to open a public library.”
From 1890 to 1920, the library’s director was the famous Czech poet Antonín Sova, who used his knowledge of German and American librarianship to establish a modern system of catalogues. He also founded the first six branches, including one in Prague’s district of Hradčany, which has been running to this day.
Antonín Sova was also instrumental in the establishment of the current seat of the building. The first purpose-built library in Czechoslovakia opened in 1928, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the independent republic. At the time, it was considered one of the most modern library buildings in Europe.
It was designed to serve a broad range of library and cultural activities including concerts, seminars and exhibitions. In addition to the lending library, study room, newspaper reading room and a children’s library, it also featured extensive storage facilities, and, since the 1930s, also a library for the visually impaired.
In the 1990s, the Central Municipal Library went through major reconstruction both of its building and its services, says Mr. Řehák:
“Paradoxically, after the year 1989, many branches were closed down due to property restitution and so on. However, we did manage to maintain a solid network. Today we have 44 branches and three library buses.
“The economic changes that took place in 1989 also opened the path to digitalisation, which has brought a major change to our services and the change actually continues to this day.”
Since 1998, the Central Municipal Library features a popular tourist attraction, the so-called Idiom, created by Slovak artist Matej Krén.
The column made of 8,000 books was unveiled in the main hall of the library in 1998. It has since made it to the Lonely Planet guide and has been reproduced on the cover of Science magazine.
The Municipal Library also features an exhibition space, used by the Prague City Gallery. Its mission is focused primarily on presenting Czech modern art from the 19th and 20th centuries.