Calais migrant camp gets makeshift library – and it needs more books – The Guardian

Volunteers have set up a makeshift library at the migrant camp in Calais which the French authorities estimate now shelters at least 3,000 refugees. The library is just one of the essential services being provided on a voluntary basis at the camp, known as the Jungle, as the refugee crisis in Europe escalates.

Opened by British teacher Mary Jones, who baptised it Jungle Books (or Livres de la jungle in French), the library is stocked with giveaways. Jones herself has been taking books and other items to the camp for years, but wanted to go beyond that, she told Publishing Perspectives. “I wanted to start something that offered real, practical help. Many people here are well-educated — they want to get on and they want books that will help them read and write English, apply for jobs, fill-in forms.”

Jungle Books is at the edge of the camp, explained Roger Tagholm, who reported the story. “They have Gone Girl, Lord of the Rings, Tom Wolfe, John Grisham … but Jones wants to add books in the native languages of refugees.” Besides stocking around 200 books, the library supports a school that offers classes to the refugees and asylum seekers that live in the camp. The “Jungle” also has two churches, a mosque, grocery stores, restaurants, a bar, a barber and a bike repair shop: “It’s a growing mini-society,” said Tagholm. Jones would like, eventually, for the migrants to run the library themselves.

The page Calais Migrant Solidarity, set up to “document police harassment of migrants and strengthen resistance” in the border town, has been asking for supplies on their site for weeks. Among the items they list are “books, dictionaries, texts, zines etc – in any and all languages.” It has been fascinating, Jones told Tagholm, to discover what books the camp inhabitants ask for, such as short stories and poetry, and she made a call for the following genres: “we need Pashto-French dictionaries, Pashto-English dictionaries, Eritrean dictionaries, books in native languages.” To support Jungle Books, please get in touch with Mary Jones at

Books change lives – other libraries in crisis situations

  • Only 20 minutes to create a full library: After having built dozens of tent libraries in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, Libraries Without Borders have been testing their Ideas Box project in Burundi. Using just two shipping pallets and taking 20 minutes to assemble, it can provdide the equivalent of “a small-town library,” as reported in FastCompany. It comes with its own books, ereaders, tablets, laptops and digital tools, as well as internet access and electric power; and the boxes that contain all of these turn into chairs and tables. In April, the project arrived at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
  • The library run by volunteers at the refugee camp in Minzhu (pictured below) created almost two months after the Sichuan quake, in 2008.
Minzhu refugee camp library
Minzhu refugee camp library. Photograph: Dan Chung for the Guardian
  • Truck-library in Saharawi refugee camps: as reported in El País, this mobile library settled in the Smara camp for Western Sahara refugees, in Algeria, in 2008, and it is now part of a network which works with local teachers and hosts book clubs for children and adults. Its name, Bubisher, refers to a desert bird whose arrival brings good luck in Saharan tradition. As of two years ago, it had almost 1,300 members and 6,000 books.
  • The Guantánamo library: with 18,000 titles across 18 languages for loan, Guantánamo Bay library has provided detainees with popular fiction (the most popular titles reportedly being Harry Potter books, novels by John Grisham and Agatha Christie and Islamic texts) as well as magazines, DVDs and newspapers. Prisoners can’t access the library premises, but reporters can, which prompted a Tumblr from a New York Times journalist collecting pictures from their visits.

Do you know of other examples? Have you worked in providing books or literacy-related services in crisis or emergency situations? Let us know in the comments