Joint venture for a good cause
As a short journey back to their origins reveals, the American Women’s Club of Basel (AWC) and the “Gesellschaft für das Gute und Gemeinnützige” (GGG), a non-profit society for good works, have some common objectives.
By Shirley L. Kearney, German by Martin Pütter
The American Women’s Club (AWC) is a small but energetic group. Also energetic, but large, is the “Gesellschaft für das Gute und Gemeinnützige” (GGG – society for the good and the common benefit). As both contribute to the betterment of their members in particular and Basel’s citizens generally, both saw the benefit of entering into what in business-speak is called a joint venture, with the younger and smaller partner the initial driving force.
The AWC appeared in 1947, shortly after the Second World War, when a group of American women organised themselves so as to offer a welcoming hand to American soldiers in Basel. From this humanitarian action the club grew into its present-day form of a social and philanthropic institution with a membership of around 160.
The seed from which the AWC library sprouted was planted in the late 1970s when a number of members, with a few books to hand, opened their library in a member’s basement. During the following decades, as the number of books increased, its location changed. Undeterred, however, the number of faithful followers dramatically expanded. The word was out: albeit modest in size, here was the first English-language library in Basel. The hunger for such a resource was obvious; however, access to the books was limited.
The penultimate venue was at Centrepoint in the Lohnhof. The location plus the competent volunteer staff offered easier access for the growing number of readers craving English-language fiction, non-fiction, children’s books – and social contact. In 2009–10 another seed was planted: what if the contents of the AWC Library were gifted to the GGG City Library? This would make the 4,000 books available to the Basel populace, and at the same time – with extended financial and personnel support – the ideals of the AWC would live on in a more stable and diverse fashion. With ever-increasing sources of information/media, the GGG Stadtbibliothek is in a better position to maintain an up-to-date English-language resource centre.
The move to GGG Library Basel West
After much soul-searching and debate, the Annual General Meeting of the AWC in 2010 voted to move its library into the 21st century with the absorption of the Club’s books into the proposed seventh branch of the GGG City Library, the Library Basel West, to be located at Allschwilerstrasse 90 near the Oekolampad Park. AWC members diligently sorted through and categorized their books, before crating them and transporting them to the new location.
On April, 2, 2011, Basel’s president Guy Morin officially opened the airy, cheerfully painted and architecturally modernised ground floor and gallery of a 1988 Herzog and de Meuron designed building. In his comments, he emphasised the importance of this neighbourhood locale as a meeting place for people of all ages, as well as a library. Two familiar books caught his eye during his walk-around: Martin Walker’s detective book Grand Cru and Alexander Dumas’ The Iron Mask (which Morin admitted he had read in French).
With this generous donation on the part of the AWC, Basel West now arguably houses the largest collection of English-language books, DVDs and audiobooks in the city. The AWC has a representative available every Friday afternoon to assist with any questions concerning the library. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Library Basel West today
Children’s and adult books in German and English, English-language newspapers, magazines and other media are not the only offerings. Comics, maps, games, computer games, audiobooks, language courses, French for schoolchildren, CDs, space for youth and more are to be found in this cosy environment. The top ten books from the New York Times bestseller list are available within one week of announcement. Lectures, readings, films and social and cultural events are constantly being added to the library’s agenda. In November 2013, vocalist and harpist Kate Dineen performed Irish music, and Irish poet and author Kevin Higgins read from his works. A bilingual literary and musical apéro on 7 February continued the trend. And finally, even if you do not need a book or newspaper or game, the Library Basel West would be the place to go for relaxation and stimulation.
A popular children’s corner – the Bookworm Programme – functions on an interactive basis with readings in German and English for children aged nine months to four years. The world of sounds comes alive in a playful atmosphere. The programme carries the name Aramsamsam and is based on a popular children’s song and game from Morocco. The AWC will host some of the Tuesday Morning Story Times in 2014.
The Children’s Literature Bus brings books and playing materials to libraries, playgrounds, parks and public swimming pools, enticing children to continue reading wherever they may be. The Kinderliteratur-Bus reaches thousands of participants each year. www.stadtbibliothekbasel.ch
Gesellschaft für das Gute und Gemeinnützige
The GGG was founded in 1777 by Isaak Iselin, then Basel’s state chancellor, with the intention of reducing poverty amongst the underprivileged through education, but with a holistic approach encompassing not only school learning but culture and sports as well. Today more than 2,000 employees along with 1,000 volunteers provide services to 90 different organisations under the motto: help through self-help. The GGG promotes and sponsors cultural and sports events and educational outlets which accommodate the varied needs of our multi-faceted and ever-changing modern society. The GGG continues to pursue the objectives of its founder while maintaining its political and religious neutrality. www.ggg-basel.ch
The GGG City Library was founded in 1807. It now has seven branches in Basel and one in Pratteln. All are open to the public. The staff watches over 270,000 items: books in local and foreign languages, maps, sheet music from Albinoni to Zappa, games and play stations, CDs, DVDs, comics and cartoons, audiobooks and more, keeping up-to-date with all the latest media. You can find out what’s available either on the website or at a branch of the library where newspapers, magazines and the entire catalogue are within reach. All branches have something unique on offer.
To maintain this high quality of service in a serene atmosphere, the main library at the Schmiedenhof in Basel is undergoing a massive transformation. To accommodate it, some local shops have relocated. Books have already been moved and walls torn down. If all goes according to plan, a renovated, enlarged and multi-functional complex will open in spring 2015. To bridge the gap, a temporary branch, the Bibliothek Kirschgarten at Sternengasse 19, opened in November 2013; it also provides a quiet space for young people to study or relax, and the hours are extended to 8 pm.
American Women’s Club of Basel
The AWC offers an open ear and heart to women having contact to the USA who live in or near Basel, helping make their stay enriching, joyful and full of opportunity as well as challenging. A variety of special-interest groups, luncheons, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July celebrations, or just getting together to enjoy each other’s company, are important facets of the Club.
The philanthropic arm of the Club donates 100% of the money raised. The annual charity masquerade ball The Night of the Mask, which in 2013 attracted over 100 members and friends, is a favoured fundraiser. Recent local beneficiaries have been Sahara, Wohnwerk and Tageszentrum Dorneck.
The AWC also assists international projects supported by FAWCO (Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas). Since 2007, a yearly US$ 5,000 scholarship sponsored through The FAWCO Foundation has been awarded to a member of one of the clubs wishing to return to or begin further academic studies. awcbasel.org