Friday, September 25, 2009

An American (Library) in Paris

Truth be told, there have been instances when I’ve heard librarians bemoan the existence of computers and the World Wide Web. But just this week I’ve experienced another positive to technology. Because of a google search, I made a discovery in Paris.

The American Library in Paris is not listed in any of the typical travel guides I consulted when planning my vacation. But as a librarian and a bibliophile, I wanted to visit a library in the City of Light. Google led me to the web page of the American Library in Paris, and on a recent afternoon I walked a few blocks north of the Eiffel Tower for a visit.

The American Library in Paris is an offshoot of the 1917 Library War Service, founded by the American Library Association, in which U.S. libraries shipped some 1.5 million books to American service personnel during World War I. Alan Seeger, a celebrated poet, was killed in the war. In 1920 Seeger’s father worked to found the American Library in Paris in honor of his son, with a core of the Library War Service books becoming the start of the collection. As part of its Vision & Mission, the library provides “access in France to what is best in English-language books, periodicals and other materials…”

Now the largest English language lending library in Europe, the library has had quite a history. For example, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein were contributors to Ex Libris, the library’s monthly review. As World War II began, the library circulated books to French and British soldiers. When the French libraries closed under Nazi occupation, the American Library remained open, attracting hundreds of French patrons. In 1941 Library Director Dorothy Reeder was sent back to the United States for safety, but one of the library’s founding members, Countess Clara de Chambrun, arranged for the library to remain open. The staff secretly continued to lend to Jewish members.

When Sylvia Beach closed her famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in 1951, she donated its circulating collection to the American Library in Paris. In 1955 the library began its English Language Library for the Blind, providing the first Braille books in English on the European continent.

Today the library has a web site, an online catalog, a reading room, a research room, a children’s room, two internet stations for customers, wireless (WiFi) access, and numerous programs for all ages. Ex Libris is still published (four times a year), along with a new online electronic newsletter called e-Libris, which is e-mailed twice a month. Copies are available from the library’s web site under “Newsletters and Reports”.

The American Library in Paris is located at 10, Rue du General Camou, and is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.


  1. Very interesting. I (of course!) especially like the part about Braille books.

  2. Thanks for sharing this link! I wish I'd known about it last time I was in Paris (although that was before my obsession with all-things library!). The library sounds very cool, and I certainly will check out it's website!