Société de Lecture
The Société de Lecture (The Reading Society) in Geneva’s historical centre offers its members a unique and diverse library and a wide variety of activities for all ages, including lectures, conferences, workshops and storytelling. The Société de Lecture’s mansion, a fine example of 18th-century Genevan architecture, is maintained by the Fondation Société de Lecture. It continuously oversees the conservation and, when necessary, the meticulous restoration of this historic building.
The Société de Lecture, created in April 1818 by Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle together with a group of notable Geneva scholars, members of European academies, in reflection of the creation of many similar associations by literary circles all over Europe during the Enlightenment period. While the initial aim was to address the shortage of scientific publications in Geneva’s public library, it soon became a centre for learning, debate and the exchange of ideas.
Over two centuries, the library has amassed an important collection of over 400,000 volumes and offers its members access to approximately 100 newspapers or periodicals. Visitors are welcome to peruse and borrow from the large selection of books related to art, science, history and geography, as well as novels, biographies and children’s books. The library’s members are also free to make use of its several reading rooms, each with a pleasant and homely atmosphere.
The Société de Lecture has become an active cultural centre of European renown. Notable speakers, both from Europe and further afield, have contributed to the conferences and seminars. Between 50 and 70 events are held each year. Literary workshops on diverse themes are also organised, while chess lessons, storytelling and other educational activities for children also make up an important part of the educational programme. The Société also regularly hosts events for the European Heritage Days, the Fête de la Musique and other local public events.
Launched as an elitist meeting place and closed to all but men, the Société de Lecture is today open to anyone who would like to join. It is modern in its outlook and promotes an open-minded concept of culture. The administration of the Société is entrusted to a Committee, composed of 12 volunteer members whose functions include the supervision of the active planning of conference cycles, lunch-time debates, workshops and public relations. To achieve its ambitious objectives, the Société relies on a team of ten professionals, including two managers, librarians and the curator of its collections.
“This universal library and place for discussion has existed continuously for 200 years. During all this time, the Société de Lecture has remained faithful to its original objectives of bringing together those people interested in literature, science and the arts. It has become a centre for the most enlightened representatives of different European cultures and its activities express the spirit of openness and the will to innovate, qualities which the Society continues to foster within its walls. The contribution of the Société de Lecture to the promotion and dissemination of cultural values in their diverse forms is recognised as an exceptional case of Swiss multilingualism and is relevant at a wider European level”, the Jury said.