The Médiathèque Abdelmalek Sayad is a little known, under-utilised resource. It is housed in the Palais de la Porte Dorée, the former Musée des Colonies, built for the 1931 Colonial exhibition. This building is now home to the Musée Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, opened in 2012.
I used the médiathèque most recently to watch two documentaries about Indochinese indenture labourers in France during World War Two. These documents are especially important as they give a voice to a largely illiterate population that were not able or encouraged to record their experiences previously. The films were not available in any other library or resource centre in Paris. I also enjoy working here as there are no administrative hassles to gain entry and it is a comfortable place to work.
This médiathèque specialises in documentation, visual, audio and written, about the history and present situation of (im)migration in and into France from the 19th century to the present day. It allows the researcher open and free access to its collections that are unrivaled, for not only does it hold all the leading monographs and journals in the field, it also carries pamphlets and newsletters by community groups. There is also an excellent selection of novels, documentaries and feature films, graphic novels and radio programmes and music CDs that discuss aspects of migration or depict or are produced by immigrant communities in France. The collection is arranged not by Dewey number, but instead thematically to echo the “Repères” thematic journey around the museum’s permanent exhibition (headings include – ‘Face à l’Etat and Représentations’). Although this might at first seem confusing, there is an clear map of the layout of the médiathèque, available on its website.
The mezzanine level has a large number of televisions with DVD players where researchers can watch audio-visual documents. It is also where you can consult a large number of university theses and dissertations.
There is space for up to 80 visitors to work and read at once in the médiathèque. On each of my visits there has never been more than 5 or 6 other researchers. The librarians are very friendly and helpful in locating resources and suggesting further reading and viewing. They reply promptly to questions by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). There is a photocopier in the library.
It is not your traditional academic library, as it also encourages visits from the local community and has an excellent range of children’s picture books, which were being well used during all my visits. If you are combining a research trip with a family holiday, there is plenty to keep the rest of the family occupied, with the aquarium in the building’s basement and the park across the road.
The médiathèque is named after Abdelmalek Sayad, a Franco-Algerian sociologist, director of research at the CNRS and EHESS. He pioneered work into Algerian migrant communities in France, emphasising the role of colonisation in producing process of migration. Following his death in 1998, his wife donated his personal archives to the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration.
- The médiathèque is open in the afternoon from Tuesday to Friday (2 to 5.30pm). It has longer opening hours on Saturdays (2 to 7pm). It is shut during the Christmas school holidays and for the whole of August.
- The Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration is in South-East Paris, on the edge of the Bois de Vincennes. Metro – line 8 – Pte Dorée. Bus – 46 from the Garé du Nord. Tram – 3a – Pte Dorée. It is about 10-15 minutes from the main BNF site by tram and foot.
- You can picnic across the road on the edge of the Bois de Vincennes. There are plenty of boulangeries, supermarkets and other food shops on the Ave de Daumesnil, about a 5 minute walk, across the tramlines from the museum.
- The restaurant, Les Cascades, is highly recommended, with a great menu et plat du jour. It is situated by the metro exit. At lunchtime, arrive early, as it is very popular with local office workers.
Nina Wardleworth is a Teaching Fellow in French at the University of Leeds. Her current research project focuses on Cultural Depictions of the French Empire during World War Two. She has just published an article on the Tirailleurs in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, co-authored with Alison Fell.