The little library with a big attitude

france pays de la loire english library anger frenchentree
Catherine, Phoebe & Marianne

Sitting on a small street not far from the massive Angers Chateau, the English-Language Library in Angers (ELLIA) holds a special position in the Angers community and in the Pays de la Loire.

With a deceptively modest shop front, the library is the largest English-language library in western France, containing more than 32,000 books and materials.

The library is invaluable to the local university programs, but, due to popular demand, activities are quickly increasing for adults and children. Popular activities include film nights, book and poetry readings, coffeehouse chats, children’s story-time, the book club, pizza and board games, the garden club, and French conversation groups.

“We’re catering mostly to university students studying English and doing research, but I think we’re opening more and more to all different needs… different levels of English, different ages, and we’re running more activities,” states Phoebe Marshall-Raimbeau, the director of the library.

The library opened in December 1993 and is a non-profit organisation funded by the Council General of Maine et Loire, the city of Angers, the University of Angers, the Catholic University of the West, and six Institutions of Higher Education.

Previously known as the American Library in Angers, it originated from materials donated by the American Library of Paris. When Paris ruptured links with its five branches in 2001 due to budgetary concerns, the library in Angers changed it’s name and continued business as usual.

The name change also best reflects the materials of the library, as Phoebe assures us that, “The collection itself is a collection that covers all English-language countries.”

The continuity and growth of the library may well be credited to Mrs Marshall-Raimbeau, who has been the library’s director since its beginning in 1993. Under her direction, the collection has steadily expanded to reach it’s current size and the library’s membership has flourished. The library currently has more than 1300 members, 60 volunteers, and 5 staff.

Originally from New York City, Phoebe has lived in France for 30 years and was previously employed as a buyer for Brentano’s bookshops in Paris. Her ties with France go much further back, though, as her mother lived in Paris in the 1950s and worked as a house model for Chanel. Though this was before she was born, it helped to instil in Phoebe an interest in France from a young age.

In addition to its programs and support of the community of English-speaking expatriates, the ELLIA also holds an outreach program at the library in Saumur. “We’re focussed on getting kids to read,” said Phoebe. One Wednesday each month they hold a program in Saumur that includes an English conversation group, a children’s hour, and a lending library.

The library also works closely with other organisations, such as the English Speaking Union and Les Chant des Mots. And, the library has received referrals from ANPE (the French employment organisation) and is helping unemployed French people to learn English to increase their job opportunities.

A substantial number of books are donated to the library and what isn’t kept for the collection is put into a book sale held twice each year in spring and autumn.

The library also offers conference rooms, a photocopier, a VCR/DVD viewing room and internet access – all must be booked in advance.

The English-Language Library in Angers is located at 60 rue Boisnet.

For more information on how to become a member, visit their website.

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