Whether you are just visiting or a long term resident, you have a friend in Paris. It is the the American Library in Paris nestled on a small side street in the seventh arrondissement.
Nearing the end of World War I, literally hundreds of libraries across the United States launched the Library War Service whose goal was to send books to U.S. troops fighting in the trenches. This is the original source for books that first lined the shelves of the American Library of Paris which was founded in 1920. One person who is largely credited in the establishment of the library is Charles Seeger. (He was the father of Alan Seeger, the celebrated poet killed in the war, and he also was the great-uncle of the American folk singer, Pete Seeger.)
Of particular interest is that in 1923 the Library launched a monthly review called Ex Libris. The name was taken from the Library’s founding motto of 1920, Atrum post bellum exlibris lux, which translates to “From the darkness of war, the light of books”. This newsletter’s first contributors included Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The newsletter is still being published today although it has evolved into an electronic biweekly, e-Libris.
When the second World War erupted in 1939, the Library began to circulate books to French and British soldiers. Although many french libraries closed across France with the Nazi occupation in 1940, this Library remained open. The Library director, Dorothy Reeder, and her staff provided heroic services by operating an underground book-lending service to Jewish members barred from libraries. Reeder was soon sent back to the US for her safety and the Countess de Chambrun took over.
At the end of the war, a new wave of American writers swarmed to Paris to make their mark on the Library. This group included Irwin Shaw, James Jones, Art Buchwald, Richard Wright and Samuel Beckett.
Over the years, the Library has had several locations across Paris including an elegant spot on the Champs-Elysées that was sold and torn down in l964 for the Publicis Drugstore. From the Champs-Elysées the Library moved to its current home at 10 rue du Général Camou just two blocks from the Eiffel Tower.
There have been many updates to the Library including access to WiFi, the Monday book groups, on-line periodical databases, a Library blog, an expanded reading room, computer access, dedicated space for children and teens, as well as updated projection and screening equipment for movie nights.
Most recently, the Library unveiled a plasma-screen display at the entrance as a new form of an electronic bulletin board. Here you can find reminders of upcoming events to include children and teen programming plus general information. The website is continuously updated. I find it streamlined and very easy to use.
The American Library in Paris has entered the 21st century with a bang offering all of us state of the art technology and easy access to information in a clean, well lit and friendly atmosphere.
There are regular monthly events from meeting authors, to attending lectures and viewing films. This month there were workshops on Burgundy Wine, evenings with David Lebovitz, author of My Paris Kitchen and author John Baxter, who wrote Paris at the End of the World. Please don’t forget the many activities for children and teens. This could be a big plus for any visiting families.
Check their website for more information. Better yet, sign up for e-Libris. This way, you too can keep pace with the ongoing story of the American Library in Paris. After all, it is not just for those of us in Paris. The Library is for the friends and supporters throughout the United States and Europe.
photos by Loui Franke
Loui Franke is author of Parisian Postcards: Snapshots of Life in Paris.