Despite the widening social and cultural role of libraries - workshops, concerts, poetry readings, employment and literacy support groups, cafés - the liberalisation of France's public libraries brings with it some unlooked-for management problems. Unaccompanied children and young people have their own ideas about what to do in easily accessible 'third places' outside home and school.
France is adjusting to radical changes to the traditional model of libraries as quiet repositories of books and materials.
“This place aims first and foremost to be a centre for living, culture being a secondary concern,” says head librarian Hélène Certain of the Louise Michel library in a suburb of Paris. “Our priority is to develop a relationship with users. Apart from public libraries, there aren’t many places in a town which are open to all comers, free of charge, with heating and no one on the door to check your identity. It’s not unusual for us to talk to someone for 20 or 30 minutes. It’s a person-to-person relation, not one of public body to consumer.”
Increasingly, libraries are taking on a role as social hubs, sharing costs and some of the traditional functions of other social services and agencies.