Geneva’s hidden library in English
The most stylish way to discover one of the best kept secrets of Geneva’s Anglo community is to take one of the shuttle mouettes that cross the lake at ten minute intervals and visit The Library in English on the rue de Monthoux in Paquis.
You will have a water-level view of Geneva and the Jet d’Eau before docking on the Right Bank, crossing under the rue Lausanne to emerge outside the Hotel Kempinski. On your left is the rue de Monthoux and just ahead the Emmanuel Church, founded in 1873, where once inside you will find the library.
It may be more practical to come by car or the number 1 bus from the Gare but an aquatic arrival preserves the magic that continues inside four cozy rooms, unchanged since American parishioners set up an informal library in 1930. Known for many years as the American Library, today it is called The Library in English in recognition of the large proportion of members and visitors who are Anglophone but not Anglo in origin.
Today the library’s book selection is as eclectic and international as its membership. Its rooms are filled floor to ceiling with over 12,000 books including literary classics, best selling mysteries and thrillers, non-fiction, travel, biographies and past magazine issues. You may find V.S. Naipaul and Arundati Roy as well as classics from Homer to Hemingway and modern favorites like Ian McEwan, Jonathan Safran, Orhan Pamuk, Imre Kertész or Ben Okri to name only a few.
Libraries everywhere are facing stiff competition from the Kindle generation, but the high quality of new arrivals chosen by a committee of volunteers and a member’s newsletter provide an invaluable service in helping readers make informed reading decisions.
Two rooms are devoted entirely to books for children and juniors, proof that the younger set also enjoys the tactile pleasure of turning the page, especially given the library’s large selection of picture books. In fact, the children’s rooms have made the library a popular weekend destination for families. Every Wednesday, a rotation of volunteers read to children aged three to seven during the popular Children’s Story Hour (3 p.m.–4 p.m.).
Adult fiction is determined by best seller lists from London and New York, newspaper and magazine reviews and announcements of literary prizes throughout the Englishspeaking world. Many new releases come to the library as fast as they go into bookstores. Both fiction and non-fiction selections are based on what the committee feels will appeal to Geneva’s sophisticated international set. According to Lucretia Myers of the selection team, US politics and the Middle East are popular non-fiction subjects at the moment. “Also anything about World War II, fiction or non-fiction, flies off the shelves. The most popular genres are ‘chick lit’, thrillers, mysteries and anything about wine or chocolate.”
Perhaps the best reason to join The Library in English, especially if you are a bookworm, is to save money. According to librarian Pam Scott, the cost of a year’s single membership is the equivalent of five paperbacks at today’s Swiss prices. Family subscriptions are even more reasonable. The library is operated on a non-profit, subscription basis and financed by membership fees plus corporate and private donations, but most of all from the annual Spring and Autumn Book Sales for which donations of good quality second-hand English books and CDs are more than welcome.