Saturday, August 7, 2010

The American Library in Paris: Optional Visit

The American Library in Paris was an amazing find! Before entering the library, we had to check out the cart of free books the library had placed outside. No one could resist free books! What I thought was most interesting about the American Library in Paris is that it is the largest English-language lending library on the European continent. In 1917, the Library War Service, a product of the ALA, ships 1.5 million books to U.S. service personnel. The American Library in Paris was founded by the ALA in 1920. The core collection of books were donated by American libraries for US armed forces personnel serving their allies in WWI. In 1923, the library launches Ex Libris, a monthly review, with contributions from Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. In the 1940s, French libraries began to close under Nazi occupation- but not the American Library in Paris. Their doors stayed open throughout WWII. The library even provided an underground lending service to Jewish patrons. In the 50s, investigators sent to filter out Communist inspired literature from the library were turned away. In 1955, the library launches The English Language Library for the Blind, which was the first collection of Braille books in English on the European continent. Marlene Dietrich's personal library was donated in 1995.

Now, the library serves as a non-profit cultural association in France. The collection includes 120,000 books, 300 periodicals, DVD, VHS, and other audio visual materials, and online and paper reference and research resource materials. The library is open to all, with annual and short-term membership options for families, students, and seniors. There are 2,300 members ranging over 60 different countries. The library has a staff of 12 members, speaking 8 different languages, and over 50 volunteers that participate in all aspects of the library.

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