In 2021, ‘Microlibraries at the Heart of Territories’ led to the constitution of an initial network of fifteen ‘microlibraries’ that extends across fragile parts of France (isolated rural areas and priority neighbourhoods). In 2022, Almayuda has joined this programme, set up by Bibliothèques Sans Frontières and the Fondation Cultura with the support of the Ministry of Culture.
Bibliothèques Sans Frontières (BSF), the organisation that set ‘Microlibraries at the Heart of Territories’ in motion, was founded in 2007 at the initiative of the historian and researcher Patrick Weil, an eminent French authority on matters of immigration and citizenship. He remains the President of this NGO that focuses on development through information, culture and knowledge.
BSF, a shining beacon in around fifty countries, runs over a third of its initiatives in France. It lists around 35,000 works in twenty-five languages, collected from institutions, publishers and private individuals, and has already dispatched almost 400,000 books to its network of 10,000 librarians, teachers and fieldworkers around the entire world (2021 figures).
‘Books have never been more important’
The ‘Microlibraries at the Heart of Territories’ programme has been set up to achieve one of the BSF’s goals, which is to create ‘extra-mural’ libraries in working-class neighbourhoods and rural areas as a way to combat inequalities, boost social ties and encourage a love of reading, while complementing the network of existing libraries.
This is necessary because even though France has one of the most impressive networks of public libraries in the world, certain rural areas and working-class neighbourhoods still lack these amenities. And even when they do have them, there remain symbolic barriers that limit access to them.
The aim of ‘Microlibraries at the Heart of Territories’ is, then, to remove the obstacles to access to books at a time when ‘faced with the uncertainties we are going through today and the accompanying temptation to withdraw into oneself, books have never been more important’.
It all began with a call for projects sent out to organisations and individuals working in isolated and/or disadvantaged places keen to forge a connection with reading through a dedicated space. A place which, over and above its collection of books on shelves, would propose innovative and creative activities so that every reader-user would feel at home there and consequently embrace it as their own and even invest in it.
The 2021 call for projects was aimed at diverse places such as cultural venues, associations and medical-social organisations, cafés and shops and information points. The outcome was the selection of fifteen living spaces led by enthusiasts in near enough every region: major metropolises (Paris and Marseille), medium-sized cities (Montbrison and Charleville-Mézières) and rural and mountainous areas (Aude, Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Côtes-d’Armor).
‘Petites Pages’ (Small Pages), the first microlibrary, opened in December 2021 in Normandy (Seine-Maritime). Like the other projects selected in 2021, it received 1,500 books and material for covering them. The people behind the project received training in events management and in cultural mediation. This mentoring, provided by the team of trainers at the BSF, is a key factor in the success of the cultural and educational projects run by ‘microlibrarians’.
Convinced like the BSF that ‘books, reading and libraries are amazing tools for escaping the difficult circumstances of life, for opening minds and for understanding the world’, as well as powerful levers of emancipation and fulfilment and for mitigating inequalities, the Almayuda Foundation joined the microlibraries adventure in 2022.
It is thus participating in a long-term project intended to gradually link all territories with dozens, even hundreds, of ‘microlibrarians’.