Knovvmads Magazine

Talents in Orbit: Janet Skeslien Charles

“I have always been a writer… I recently became an author”, that’s how Janet Skeslien Charles sees herself with two books published, Moonlight in Odessa and the recently published The Paris Library. Janet spoke to us about the odds that bring you to work in a Library and fall in love with them deeply. We also talked about the American Library in Paris, the institution that stars in her recent novel.

Would you say the American Library has a role for expat life? Like, are they the main users of the library or  is it a different public going there?

My book came out in French last October. We had a number of small sessions with journalists and book sellers. There was one journalist looking into the archive and was like “You mean anyone can come here and look at this stuff?” He just couldn’t believe that the library was open to anyone to look at anything that was available in the library. Here in France, when I was doing my research for the book, I made some requests for the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). They have a system where you make a request several days in advance and they decide if they’ll bring it to you. They might answer “We have it but you can not look at it” because they are delicate materials. This is the opposite of the ideology of american library  system where the whole purpose is to share knowledge.

For the expats, I think it’s a home away from home. They would go to the library to find something they could enjoy and overcome the culture shock of coming to France. The American Library is a great place to feel a little bit at home when you are still acclimating to the new residence. As the Evening with an Author programs, it often had programs about Culture Shock or education in France.

I have seen some changes in the public coming to the library. Sometimes you would often see trailing spouses, women following their executive husbands and changing cities or countries every two years. Now you see more women coming on their own and figuring out the country by themselves. 

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