The library Marguerite Yourcenar is different from other libraries because of its specific social environment which compels librarians to go beyond the usual requirements of their job.
Indeed, the librarians are also social workers who help the users with their French learning, with homework for the children, with creating a CV, or other personal administrative problems. The librarians even stretch to organizing sociolinguistic workshops in the local community centre, for the adults wishing to learn the French language and improve their literacy skills. They also suggest visiting the library to them, to get acquainted with the place and to incite them to come back.
Therefore, the librarians are not only there to convey culture and to promote reading, but also to provide human contact and to be attentive to fellow human beings. The library is also a meeting place for its users: they find there a safe and quiet place to talk, outside their often too small apartments. However, certain parents have got used to leaving their children alone in the library, under the sole supervision of the librarians. Because of that, the library is often transformed into daycare.
Furthermore, the library often welcomes children who have been excluded from school for misbehavior, and who are supervised by an outside person to do various activities. They participate in workshops where they can perform slam poetry, or learn the Dewey classification. So, it allows the children not to stay home doing nothing and it keeps them in touch with a form of instruction. This practice is important for the future of the child, because if he or she feels constantly rejected by society, later he or she will have difficulties adapting socially and professionally. Of course, all these activities are free and open to all.
Besides, the library also tries to provide a collection in accordance with the ethnic variety of the area, and offers “easy readings” (French books with a limited vocabulary). However, it has at present only a small collection of bilingual books, some books full of pictures for illiterate people and very few books in their original language. The reasons for having few foreign books are the following, or so we were told by the librarians. First, the difficulty to find booksellers or publishers selling books written in these very varied languages, and the financial complexity to establish a market with French suppliers. Secondly there is the problem of cataloging books written in a different alphabet: the software used by the library doesn’t possess the multibyte character encoding for Unicode (UTF-8), and it is difficult to fit in the title of a book in Arabic for example.
Also – a rather rare thing in France – another library of the network sometimes welcomes workers for community service. In fact, following a criminal offence, instead of going to jail these people serve their sentence doing community service, and are brought into the library as trainees. In fact, these persons have to do the daily tasks of a librarian, which keeps them in touch with the world of work and preserves the social link which – on the contrary – would have deteriorated in prison.
Finally, it is all these atypical activities due to the particular context of the city of Sevran, which make the richness of the library, and which intrigued us and urged us to visit it. We hope this discovery also interested you and we are looking forward to discovering the libraries you have selected.
See you soon for a new report!
Céline, Amélie, Laetitia, et Marie-Lyne.