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James Verini on libraries and journalism

Fall 2017 Library visiting fellow James Verini


Journalist James Verini is the Library’s Visiting Fellow for October and will do a couple of programs at the Library during his fellowship. On Tuesday 10 October, he will talk in-depth about his time reporting from Iraq, and in particular the battle against ISIS for the city of Mosul. On Sunday 15 October at 14h30, Verini will lead a workshop on being an overseas freelance journalist, discussing the challenges and opportunities at play when one is an independent contractor rather than a staffer. Participation for the workshop is free for Library members and non-members can purchase a day pass to participate. Reserve your spot at

Here he answers a few questions about libraries, getting started in journalism, and his experiences reporting from Iraq. 

What are your earliest memories of being in a library?

I must have been in libraries before the age of 11, but the earliest memory I can call to mind comes from that year. I was enthralled by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, and had read through the collection on the shelf at home. I repaired to the library at my grade school in search of more Sherlock Holmes. Sitting at the library’s long, battered, stained-wood reading table, I was carried back to Baker Street. 

How did you come to journalism?

At the time, it seemed arbitrary. I knew I wanted to write for a living, though write what I did not know. Out of university, qualified for nothing, I applied for a job at a newspaper, among many other jobs, in research and public relations and entertainment. The newspaper, The Daily Deal,  was the only firm that called. That was seventeen years ago. I can’t bear the thought of doing any other sort of work, which is just as well, as I still have no other abilities. 

What is the biggest suprise you experienced living in Iraq during the last year, in terms of impressions we may have reading about the region, vs reality, on a day to day basis?

The biggest surprise an American journalist finds in Iraq, or ought to find, if they’re paying attention, is just how much Iraqis still like and even admire individual Americans. They have every reason to resent Americans, of course, every reason to be suspicious of us, but nonethelessand astonishinglythey keep an open mind. They know to distinguish between a person and his government. This was as true of the ISIS sympathizers I met as it was of the group’s critics. Their open-mindedness leaves you admiring them more and more with every conversation.


The American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship program was created in 2013 to deepen our French-American understanding by offering writers and researchers an opportunity to pursue a creative project in Paris while also being part of the life of the Library. The Fellowship is made possible through a donation from The de Groot Foundation. 


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