February 17, 2018

Mary Jones | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Community Builders

Mary Jones


Founder, Jungle Books, Calais, France


BA, Fashion Journalism, Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, 1988; Master’s in Development Management, Open University, 2014


junglebookslibrarycalais (Facebook)

Photo courtesy of Mary Jones

Refuge Creator

Mary Jones, a British teacher living in Amiens, was shocked by the migrant camp at Calais, packed with refugees from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan. After starting as a volunteer English teacher, she began bringing books. Then, recognizing a demand, she created a makeshift library known as Jungle Books, after the camp’s moniker, “The Jungle,” in August 2015.

The library garnered widespread press and donations—but quickly hit capacity. Jones began to accept only the most needed titles: multilingual dictionaries, specialist texts, children’s books, basic books for new French and English learners, and works in residents’ native languages. She started a crowdfunding campaign for generators, rechargeable lamps, winter wear, cooking equipment, and laptops. The library has since registered as a not-for-profit.

Built and largely run by the refugees, the library has expanded dramatically, adding meeting/reading/kids’ spaces, classrooms, and more. Its short history mirrors that of established public libraries, moving from book to community hub, hosting talks, classes, and music lessons, as well as charging mobile phones and powering laptops. It’s a full-time job for Jones—who now teaches for pay one 12-hour day per week.

Jungle Books serves an estimated camp population of 3,800 to 4,500. That will drop dramatically once the government clears nearly half the camp, including the library. Jones hopes to organize a new version in the shelters constructed from shipping containers.

“We’ll re-create some semblance of normality,” she says. “We’ll definitely take the books, though. It’s the heart of the Jungle.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.