As described by Director Dorothy Reeder, the American Library in Paris was a “war baby, born out of that vast number of books sent to the A. E. F. by the American Library Association in the last war. When hostilities ceased, it embarked on a new mission, and has served as a memorial to the American soldiers for whom it has been established.”
Originally the American Library Association’s Service for the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) during World War I, the American Library in Paris was founded in 1918 and formally incorporated under the laws of the state of Delaware in 1920. The institutional goals were:
1. To serve as a memorial to those American soldiers for whom it was first established
2. To promote among students, who are given free use of the library, journalists and men of letters in France acquaintance with American literature, institutions and thought
3. To supplement the meager collections of American books in existing public libraries in Europe. This institution received as a gift from the American Library Association the collection of books made by its War Library Service and later a contribution of $25,000. To this was added a fund of 50,000 francs, presented by Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Seeger as a memorial to their son, [American poet] Alan Seeger, who had been killed in action.
As the first international American library, it became a model to the League of Nations for future American libraries abroad. The American Library in Paris quickly became a vital hub of reference services and educational outreach. As noted in an operational report from 1923, within just three years of existence, the library’s reference room was visited by 35,000 users: 35% Americans, 33% French, 16% English, and 16% other nationalities.
In 1940, as war encroached upon France, Director Reeder observed that at first lighthearted books were widely requested as an escape from the grim news. As more nations fell, readers turned to books on the various embattled regions. As the Nazis advanced towards Paris, library patrons fled the city with many of the library’s books, but Director Reeder received several letters from patrons promising the return of the books at the war’s end. Recognizing the significance of the library to the morale of Parisians, the American Library maintained a minimal operation during the occupation despite the difficulties. Once the United States entered the war, Reeder was forced to evacuate the country; leaving the Library’s vice-president Countess de Chambrun, and a handful of staff to continue the operation. Upon Reeder’s return to the United States, she submitted a dramatic report of life in Paris and at the Library during the Nazi Invasion.
Once the war’s end was in sight, the American Library Association chose Milton E. Lord as Reorganization Director for the Library. In his letter to Edward A. Sumner on February 3, 1945, Lord describes the food rations and harsh winter the Library and its staff endured after the Liberation.
The American Library in Paris continues to function to this day.
For more information:
American Library in Paris records within the ALA Archives
American Library in Paris’ website
Maack, Mary Niles. “I Cannot Get Along Without The Books I Find Here”: The American Library In Paris During The War, Occupation, And Liberation, 1939-1945.” Library Trends 55.3 (2007): 490-512. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 June 2013.
 Dorothy Reeder “The American Library in Paris: September 1939 – June 1941,” American Library in Paris Correspondence, 1922-1945, Record Series 2/4/70, Box 3, Folder: American Library in Paris, 1941.
Images from Record Series 7/12/3, Box 1, Folder: Quick Facts on the American Library in Paris