It took me much too long to find Basel's libraries. I always thought that since my German wasn't very good that they were of no use to me. I was wrong. I have since discovered that Basel's libraries are not only an excellent source for English books, but also a fantastic tool for learning German and so much more.
The Gesellschaft für das Gute und Gemeinnützige, otherwise known as the GGG was founded in 1777 by Isaak Iselin with the aim of helping under-privileged people. It operates 13 organizations in Basel in the areas of social affairs, education and culture. This includes the GGG Benevol (Center for Volunteer Work) or the GGG Migration (contact point for migrants in Basel) and, of course, GGG Stadtbibliothek Basel (the city's library system). GGG Stadtbibliothek operates 15 locations around the city. Some of these locations offer comprehensive services and some have a more specialized focus.
Children (under 15) that reside in Basel Stadt may sign up for a free membership to GGG Stadtbibliothek. There are a number of different membership options for adults, but generally speaking a 'Basic Adult Membership' will cost CHF 55/year and includes 15 books, 8 digital mediums (including ebooks) and 5 streaming movies per month. If you are like me and never had to pay for a library membership before, you might be dissuaded by the price, but if you think of how many books you purchase during the year, it quickly makes up for the cost.
Although there is certainly more selection in German, the GGG Stadtbibliothek also has an extensive collection of English fiction and non-fiction. If you want to see what's available you can easily do a search for titles online with their handy search page, but if you really want to see what's on offer make sure to visit their Schmiedenhof, Basel West and St. Johann JUKIBU locations, which have the most English titles. Schmiedenhof is the flagship location and is a modern and beautifully designed 2000m² space with a comprehensive collection of over 300,000 books in 50 languages, as well as a wide range of digital media, including ebooks, DVD's and movie streaming. It even has its own restaurant, Restaurant 1777, named after the GGG's founding year.
Not only can you use the fantastic GGG Stadtbibliothek for English books, it is also a wonderful resource for learning German. Who would have thought that reading books written in German can help you learn German? Let me tell you it was a revelation to me.
Reading in German can have a huge impact on how quickly you learn the language. Not only does it help you expand your vocabulary, it can also help with all those damned tricky articles (der, die, das) and other grammatical tiddlywinks, as well as spelling and general comprehension. And, here's the kicker, it can actually be fun. Seriously. I'm not talking about the free newspapers we all get (the ones that line all of our recycling bins), but some more enjoyable options that bring back the pleasure in reading, even in a foreign language. All are conveniently all located at your local library.
Picture Books for Adults
The first option is picture books for adults, and by that I mean, cookbooks, art books, gardening, photography, woodworking or whatever you are interested in. That is how children learn to read and adults can use the same method. Start with something that interests you (for me it was cooking) and get a bunch of books to flip through. Think of it as retro Instagram. As you browse the glossy pictures of cakes and one-pot meals you may find yourself interested in how to make these dishes and all of a sudden you find yourself reading...in German (OMG). Yes, you may come across some words that you don't understand, but the context and images help you along and you will find that you understand most of what is going on.
This is another excellent option for German learners. Written in more easily understood German with definitions for the more difficult words along the side, Deutsch Perfekt covers a range current topics such as culture, society or everyday life in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - so its great for learning more about this part of the world. It also has grammar and vocabulary trainers and short exercises you can complete. You can order a subscription to be sent to your home, but there are also several copies at the library.
In Einfacher Sprache
This German phrase meaning 'in easier language' is key to your success in german reading. Spass am Lesen Verlag produces a whole series of novels that are written with German learners in mind. Written with short sentences, with easy vocabulary and grammar, these books are very enjoyable and you can brag to your friends that you just read a German novel. They even have some well-know titles such as About a Boy, by Nick Hornby and The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion, that have been translated into easier German.
YA (Young Adult Fiction)
Yes, now you can you can nurture your guilty pleasure while learning German at the same time. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games - revel in your inner teenage angst and learn the best vocabulary to keep up with the kids. These books are perfect for language learners because they are written for youth audiences, often with more simplified language. Already read them in English? Even better. If you already know the story, it will be easier to follow along.
Formal Learning Materials
The libraries also have a wide selection of formal learning materials, including textbooks, workbooks and audio files and well as grammatical guides written in both German and English. It's a great way to improve your language skills if you are on a budget.
And lastly, if you have some voracious little readers in your house (as I do) you can certainly keep up with their habits with the help of the library. The GGG Stadtbibliothek has really made a special effort for children, and in addition to their wide range of children's books, games and digital media (in English, German and a number of other languages) they also have a number of activities for children and youth as well as a beautiful kid-friendly reading spaces.
I hope this article inspires you to visit Basel's wonderful libraries, if not for your English reading needs, but also to help you learn die wunderbare deutsche Sprache.