Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library Budapest “Not everyone is lucky enough to study in a palace”

One popular spot is the reading room, which used to be the ballroom in the former Wenckheim Palace.
One popular spot is the reading room, which used to be the ballroom in the former Wenckheim Palace. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut

Anna L. was familiar with several branches of the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library in Budapest because her mother worked as a librarian there. Now a student, she also visits the library’s magnificent main building on a regular basis.

The main reason I like coming here so much is the interior design with its special atmosphere. I really like the mood here. Not everyone is lucky enough to study in a palace: you can really feel a bit like a princess or a queen here. The “ballroom” in the former Wenckheim Palace is the largest and most opulent room, and it is here that there is also the most coming and going.

Most of all I like the reading room of philosophy and psychology, though; the one with the wooden stairs, because it is so warm and homey. I can always find a spot for myself here.

Anna’s favourite place is the reading room of philosophy and psychology. Anna’s favourite place is the reading room of philosophy and psychology. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut When I want to meet up with other students so that we can discuss something related to our studies, we can get together in the cafeteria in the covered inner courtyard without bothering anybody. Some people also engage in language lessons here, but nobody minds at all. This is the place where anyone can chat as much as they like and exchange views and thoughts with others …

A glass-covered inner courtyard links the old and new parts of the building. A glass-covered inner courtyard links the old and new parts of the building. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut When I began at the university in 2013, I first studied history. In my experience, the atmosphere in the Central Library is much friendlier than for instance in an archive, where the rules are much stricter. You have to pay a fee to use the archive, and can only spend a limited amount of time there. What is more, people look daggers at you if you make even the slightest sound. By contrast, this library meets all of my needs. The librarians really know their stuff, work quickly and efficiently, and are friendly. If I have a break between classes I always come here so as to spend my time doing something useful – studying or taking out a book.

The librarians are always happy to help. The librarians are always happy to help. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut I can use the online catalogue right here in the library, or I can make my choices while still at home. I can even renew my books or pay any fines online (though I generally return my books on time). If I request a book from store, the library staff conjure it up for me as if by magic from the massive stores and hand it to me within 20 minutes. I would also like to mention the interlibrary loan system that exists between the branches, as I see this as an important service. Of course, one could register with several branches, but I do not have enough time to visit them all separately. Because this is the Central Library, one is supplied with the books one has requested in no time at all, which is extremely convenient and saves a huge amount of time.

The databases to which the library subscribes are also useful; they provide access to the latest Hungarian and international magazines, publications and image databases. Admittedly they can only be used on-site, yet if for example a historian is working on an academic project it is far easier to browse the relevant literature using a search programme than to comb one’s way through several shelves or even entire rooms full of books or journals one by one. The Arcanum and the Europeana are examples of outstanding virtual systems of this kind.

Anna frequently uses the databases to which the library subscribes. Anna frequently uses the databases to which the library subscribes. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut I have now switched courses and am doing a degree in Slavic studies, specializing in Serbian and Bulgarian. This programme also requires a great deal of literature: for each module the professors list two or three books that we are supposed to have read – though we aren’t exactly required to know them off by heart – so it goes without saying that I get hold of the Hungarian specialist literature I need here. I find it very reassuring to know that I will find the sources I require here – material I can work with. This includes some more unusual topics such as the folklore of the peoples living in the former Yugoslavia, folk art, the songs of the various ethnic groups, and even something like military aviation – something of a hobby of mine when I was a child. Generally speaking I find all this stuff really fascinating, and can always find a book or article about any subject under the sun. I also like embroidery and pearl beading, and for these hobbies I can get hold of patterns and motifs from various books. It is hard to believe that such subjects are also covered at the Central Ervin Szabó Library, but they are.

Anna loves to browse. Anna loves to browse. | Photo (detail): Zoltán Kerekes I © Goethe-Institut And since one can borrow so many different things and make oneself such a plethora of notes, it would be wonderful if one were given some sort of fabric bag or other carrier bag to put all the material in – that really would be a service fit for a queen!
 

Anna L. was born in 1993. She grew up in Budapest and still lives there. She is doing a degree in Slavic studies, specializing in Serbian and Bulgarian, at Eötvös Loránd University.

The Central Library of Szabó Ervin Library in Budapest has been housed in the former Wenckheim Palace since 1931. After expansion work was completed in 2001, it was able to offer its users a modernized building and contemporary services. The largest public library in the Hungarian capital, it attracts 3,000 visitors every day.
 

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