Little White Rabbit Just Hopped into the Library
20 August 2011
Cleopatra and her Asp
3 September 2011

Interview with Phoebe Marshall-Raimbeau

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Phoebe Marshall-Raimbeau is the Director of the English-language Library in Angers (ELLIA). The library is the largest English-language library in western France, containing more than 32,000 books and material. Popular activities include film nights, readings, story-time for children, book clubs, a garden club, and French conversation groups.

Originally from New York, Phoebe has lived in France for nearly 30 years. Her family’s ties with France go back much further. Her mother lived in Paris in the 1950’s and worked as a house model for Chanel. Though this was before Phoebe was born, her mother’s experiences instilled a love of all things French.

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What took you to Angers?

My work. In 1993 I had been working at Brentano’s bookstore in Paris for about 10 years as a bookbuyer and I heard that The American Library in Paris was wanting to open up a branch in Angers. My husband, an “Angevin pure souche”, and I were ready to move out of big city Paris and taste the calmer waters of a provincial town.

What keeps you there?

The sheer beauty of the area : a sanctuary of peace and a source of endless inspiration. A wonderful town to raise kids, good schools, easy to get around but a bubbling cultural life when needed. The city of Angers is a great supporter of the arts.

Can you tell us a little about your position as the director of the English-language Library in Angers?

Librarianship is an incredibly exciting profession today. The profession goes far beyond books. I’ve been Director for the past 19 years and have witnessed a great shift in the tasks at hand. I look at fundraising, budgets, collection development, the impact of the ebook age (looming over us! The library has acquired 3 ereaders to circulate), providing efficient service, supporting the staff, helping the board move forward with retreats, meetings, and clarity in our mission. We  build, basically on a daily basis, the community of people who use – and hopefully come to love – the library.  I am particularly working on developing new programs for the “rentrée” 2011…just around the bend. To mention a few : setting up debating in English in French high school students; running a program using music and theater and films in English for a pilot project in middle schools; and setting up a writer’s residency for an American writer to come to our area. Networking with other non-profits is essential in much of what we do. Our over 70 volunteers provide an extraordinary source of manpower.

Angers

What are some of the challenges you face in your role there?

Making sure that the library is “the place to be” for all ages, nationalities and needs. This means listening very carefully to what is happening in the world and with those around us…and readapting one’s vision accordingly, sometimes on a daily basis. Keeping up with technology is daunting at times but keeps me on my toes.

What are some of the rewards?

Never knowing what the day will bring… constantly meeting incredibly interesting people.

How has technology changed the role of the the library?

After we burned the bra in the women’s liberation movement, we were able to burn the card catalog when we automated the collection. This moved librarians from the dark ages to a very complex period of multi-tasking. I personnally have no sentimentality at all for the clerical work of the past, we now spend our time much more creatively. Technology – used correctly – permits the library to stay in the eye of the public through websites, emails (we send out our monthly announcements to over 3000 addresses), Twitter, Facebook…however we must be careful about the quality of the information.

What is the best advice that you have received?

You learn by doing…

And  “You use a glass mirror to see your face, you use works of art to see your soul.”

~ George Bernard Shaw.

far-from-the-madding-crowd

What books are on your nightstand?

A mix of books in both French and English: “Les Passions Intellectuelles – Désirs de Gloire” by Elisabeth Badinter, “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy, “Princesse de Clèves” by Madame de la Fayette, “Mosses from the Old Manse” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound” edited by Vida Scudder and “Nothing like the Sun – A Novel about William Shakespeare” by Anthony Burgess.

Phoebe's mother, who worked as a model for Chanel

Phoebe's mother, who worked as a model for Chanel

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