American Library: Creating Community in the Center of Paris

American Library: Creating Community in the Center of Paris
Tucked away on the one-block long Rue du Général Camou in the seventh arrondissement of Paris, just steps from the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars or the Place de l’Alma, stands a gem of a resource for Anglophones, the American Library in Paris. This institution, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, was extensively renovated in 2016 and has reopened to offer enhanced services and gathering spaces for English-speakers from all over the world. Library Director Audrey Chapuis captures its uniqueness: “A building consecrated to ideas and books is rare and needs to be protected.” As “a center for literature, learning, culture and community”, it also promotes the development of personal relationships in innovative and effective ways. The library hosts an extensive array of events, programs and opportunities, including: A chance to read Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, or the prix Goncourt-award-winning novel, Chanson Douce (in translation, The Perfect Nanny) in English. Prized works of Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, like Oscar and the Lady in Pink or Invisible Love, are available in English. Indeed, over 100,000 titles written for all ages are available at the library! Access to newspapers and magazines from more than 90 different sources. Support for learning any number of languages, with programs available online worldwide. David Lebovitz’s cookbooks including recipes for madeleines written in the language consistent with your measuring cups and spoons. Analysis of current political issues by experts in public policy. For example, a prestigious flash panel discussing the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) filled the large auditorium on January 22nd. Thanks to support from The Annenberg Foundation, most evening events, including panels and author talks, are open to the public free of charge. (Donations to the non-profit organization are, of course, always welcome.) Workshops on writing for teens or adults, capitalizing on access to authors and instructors who are in Paris for a day, a week, or a lifetime. These opportunities encourage writing as well as reading. Further support for English-writing authors, ranging from the Young Authors Fiction Festival (for children between 5 and 18) to the prestigious annual competition for a new book about or set in Paris, or the establishment of a spring Writer-in-Residence program. A sympathetic community for English-speaking children, teens, and parents offers ways for them to come together in sharing language, traditions, perspectives. As one example, the annual Halloween celebration draws more than 500 Anglophones to share the holiday in ways that extend beyond those of All Saints’ Day. Almost 250 programs a year are offered for children and teens. Librarians who specialize in resources for children and teens offer developmental sensitivity – including a section of books for parents – along with an appreciation of the challenges of living in two languages. As Celeste Rhoads, head children’s and teens’ librarian, notes, “To value and really master a language, you need to make memories in that language, to have other people around you who speak it, not just mom and dad. And learning the language has to be fun. Parents need to regularly put their child in an environment where they see other children speaking the language. The library is an anchor where families can participate in English language activities together, in an anglophone environment. Kids need a place where others speak English. They need Anglophone friends too, and fun activities that are in English so they have maximum exposure to the language in different contexts.” On-going story hours and activities for children from birth into middle childhood, with a variety of innovative programs featuring movement and sensory experiences so essential to the pleasure and understanding of small children, cultivating an early attachment to books and reading. Children who are already reading can schedule a session with Lady, the Reading Dog, a vet-approved canine who has been trained to listen to small children, bringing them a uniquely rewarding and innovative reading experience. Brochures filled with recommendations and references are available on Resources for Parents of Bilingual Children, Helping Your Child Learn to Read, Money Matters: Talking with your children about money and finances, or Screen Use: Why Books are Best! The latter offers information on when and why books are superior to screens and tips on how to raise children with an appreciation for reading off-line. The library provides teens with comfortable places to read without distractions, a well-stocked library, and spaces to work with their peers. Orientations on digital literacy and workshops addressing proper ways to cite work of others are bonuses. Access to communal spaces for activities, workshops, talks, lectures, and conversations. From comfortable lounge chairs, ideal for a two-person conversation, to study rooms for small groups, bigger rooms for meetings or workshops, and even more spacious settings for the most popular gatherings, the renovated library is filled with light-filled welcoming opportunities to be as solitary or as social as one chooses. In other words, it feels like the best sense of “home”. People can join a short-term book discussion group formed around a current interest…

Lead photo credit : Author talk with Richard Russo. Photo credit: American Library in Paris

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Roni Beth Tower, author of the award-winning memoir "Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance", is a retired clinical, research and academic psychologist and a dedicated Francophile.