Reflecting on a Research Trip to Paris: National Library of France

Last week I took a two-day trip to Paris for research. There were a number of elements to the trip, and I am going to do a series of posts relating to each of them.

The first part of my trip was to visit the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France) to do some archival work related to my research on Roland Barthes, specifically his visits to Japan and the book Empire of Signs.

This part of the trip went very well – although it wasn’t without a little drama (which I won’t bore you with). The visit would not have been possible without the help of Thomas Cazentre at the library who organised for two boxes of materials to be made available to me. Getting to and using these boxes, however, was quite a process.

First I had to get a library ID card. I then had to go to another desk to pay for my use of the library that day. I then had to deposit my rucksack in a locker for the day. Finally, I made it to the manuscript reading room, where I had to hand over my ID card. I was then given a card with a desk number, which I had been allocated for the day, written on it.

Next, I took this number to another service point, at the other end of the reading room, to get the boxes. I say, boxes, but actually I was only allowed one box at a time.

I then had to take the box to another service point, roughly in the middle of the reading room, where the box was opened up and I was then given one of the brown document folders inside which contained the actual papers/book/photographs which I was allowed to inspect at my allocated desk. It was all very different to what I had experienced in other libraries (in the UK or Japan), but once I understood how it worked, it was not a problem and I can appreciate why it was done this way (and getting up and exchanging the folders at least meant that I wasn’t sitting still for too long).

Anyway, as for the materials themselves, they were so helpful for my research – which will become a part of my study on Visual Packaging Culture, although elements may also be included in the update to Japan: The Basics which also includes some discussion on Empire of Signs. Naturally, most of the materials were in French, so, having taken notes on everything, I will be working with a student who is assisting me over the summer (through a project funded by Cardiff University) in looking at the French versions of Empire of Signs (and my additional materials) in ensuring that I fully understand everything.

As well as the materials being helpful for my research, just as I found when I touched and read the actual diary of Hirotsugu Kawaguchi, one of the passengers who wrote final notes (isho) on flight JL123, it is really special to be able to see and touch these items for yourself. It really helps you to appreciate what the person may have been experiencing and thinking in a different way to just seeing photographic renditions or the text itself. So, I’d really like to express my thanks again to the staff at the library for giving me the opportunity to do this research.

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