Art Deco and Gothic masterpieces in Reims

I’m back from my Great Library Tour, jetlagged and awake since 2am. Time to get back into blogging. (Ten days into my three week trip, I reached Paris and gave up on blogging as I went. Too much to see and no time for sitting round in the hotel connected to wifi).

Before Paris, we visited Reims in the heart of the Champagne region. Reims was devastated by German bombardment in World War I and completely rebuild in the 1920s. With only 60 buildings intact and its population reduced from 110,000 to 1,500, the mayor wanted to encourage people to come back and build, so placed no restrictions on architectural style. There are some lovely Art Nouveau and Art Deco details on many buildings.

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imageThe Opera Cinema – dilapidated but still flaunting its Art Nouveau curves.

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Patched bullet holes on a building wall.

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Reims has a magnificent Gothic cathedral, the coronation site of French kings, which was badly damaged and is still being restored today. (Apparently the Germans aimed at the cathedral because they were using a French map that incorrectly labelled the cathedral as the town hall.)

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imageStained glass windows by Marc Chagall were inaugurated in 1974.

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On to the libraries! The reason for our trip to Reims was the gorgeous Carnegie Library of Reims, one of three public libraries funded by the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in devastated frontline cities. Built in the 1920s, it was originally conceived as a classical building, but influenced by his son the architect changed tack and opted for the new-fangled Art Deco style. With a very generous budget from the Carnegie Foundation, the building was both a functional modern library for its time, and a luxuriously decorated Art Deco masterpiece. It served as Reims’ main public library until 2003.

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The centrepiece of the foyer is a huge, spectacular Art Deco lantern

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The onyx and green marble walls are studded with mosaic squares featuring different occupations.

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‘The Farmer’, as imagined by John Galliano.

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The foyer leads into four symmetrically arranged rooms – the reading room, catalogue room (retro librarian heaven), an exhibition space and the director’s office.

The catalogue room:

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The reading room:

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Behind the service desk with my travelling librarian companions, Carnegie Library manager Sabine Maffre (at centre leaning against the desk) and Reims municipal library director Delphine Quéreux-Sbaï (at right):

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In the stacks:

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In Sabine’s magnificent office (we all had serious office envy):

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Sabine’s big dinosaurs getting to know Mike’s Daleks, weeping angel and cyberman, and Jane’s little dinosaurs.

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On Sabine’s desk. Not surprisingly, the centenary of World War I is a big deal in Reims.

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The ballet photo was taken by Sabine’s father, a professional photographer.

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I confess I was curious how someone so young came to be managing the library – and doubly so when Sabine told me this was her first job out of university. Sabine explained that in France, you don’t work your way up the ranks, but study theory for 10 years at a prestigious university, then go straight into a senior position.

On to Jean Falala Library, Reims’ 10-year-old central library.

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When we visited, the library had been closed for two months for some refurbishment and the implementation of RFID tagging. Our Australian public librarians were stunned by the luxury of closing the library for RFID tagging. One reminisced about a pyjama party where staff tagged all the books overnight, then got changed and opened the library in the morning.

The Reims staff were undergoing training in the new system.

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The large and well-stock children’s section, over two floors:

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I continued my ongoing amazement at the number of graphic novels in French libraries. One library had 3,000 titles. Do 3,000 hardcover graphic novels in English even exist?

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Language learning booths:

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Not a bad view!

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