The American Library in Paris renewed my faith in mankind. Whether you’re living, visiting, or studying in Paris and are in search of a place to read, take the kids for an educational afternoon, or need a working printer, please, indulge me in a story:
It was late November just three months into my year at the Sciences Po and I was cranky. My phone company seemed to enjoy over-charging me for fun, my bank was happy to let them and I had no water pressure in my – also expensive- shower. If Paris had received the christening foot-of-snow I was accustomed to in Boston by this time, I probably would have jumped the Pont des Arts. Now, I cannot begin to list the things I adore about Paris, and I will be a Francophile until and hopefully after death, but right after Thanksgiving came the final straw: I had a 60 page paper to write comparing socio-political atmospheres created by the Bread Cultures of France and the United States.
Of course, I needed a plethora of English print sources on everything from the quality of wheat gluten found in the American flour to the Bread Riots of the French Revolution. But first, I needed a quiet space where I could turn my head to the left without unwillingly sniffing someone’s hair. I needed to be able to quickly copy periodicals, print articles, etc. I needed to not have to elbow someone out of the way to claim one of the three working outlets. I needed wifi that –before I complain about the average speed- heck, I just needed working wifi.
The American Library in Paris came to my rescue. They can celebrate their 90th anniversary this year because they truly live up to their mission: access in France to the best of English literature, periodicals and educational materials; access to the services of a contemporary American public library; access to an atmosphere that encourages reciprocal Franco-American appreciation through cultural sharing. It proudly bares the title of the largest English-language lending library on the European continent. Today, the library has approximately 2,300 members hailing from over 60 different countries. Most events, including evenings with visiting authors, are free and open to the public. Located just 10 minutes from the Champs de Mars, the American Library in Paris is a wonderful place to bring kids to bond-over activities with their French friends (read on), catch up on American news, or simply spend an afternoon.
A Brief History
The American Library in Paris was founded in 1920 as a non-profit organization that sprang from a movement to ship over one million books and periodicals to military personnel serving in World War I. Their monthly newsletter Ex Libris boasts the contributions of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemmingway. During World War II the library remained opened during Nazi occupation and attracted an even greater number of French patrons when French libraries were closed. Not only did the library supply books to American and British soldiers, but an underground service circulated books to the Jewish community in Paris as well.
During the 1950’s, the Library launched the English Language Library for the Blind, the first collection of Braille books in English on the continent. In 1955, during the Red Scare the library boldly turned away McCarthy investigators sent to Europe to uncover communist-inspired literature.
Fast forward 60 years and find the library with wifi, two full-text online databases including JSTOR, Monday book groups, and thanks to an endowment from the Annenberg Foundation, a Children’s Librarian and the Evenings with an Author Program. In 2009 library patrons checked out an average of 67 books per person (and my bread paper only required 15!).
Activities for Kids
Parents, the library hosts over 200 “youth-oriented” activities per year. Though a sign at the door cautions that “All unattended children will be given an espresso and free puppy,” the children’s collection is excellent with classic and new literature for every age.
No sign-ups are needed for the Wednesday story hour for children ages 3-5. During the summer the 10h30 sessions are dropped until August 11, however the 14h30 session runs year-round. Thursdays during the year host Mother Goose Lap-Sits with stories, poems and rhymes for children ages 1-3; the last summer session August 26th from 10h30-11h00. The Library’s “Saturday Series” for ages 6 and above from 15h00-16h00 include everything from Independence Day Celebrations to Indian Dance Classes. Children’s events unless otherwise listed are free to members and 9€ for non-members.
This coming Saturday, August 7, is the monthly used book sale and the Saturday Series event “Curiouser and Curiouser” an introduction to Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland and its adaptations.
Also currently at the American Library until September 16th is the exhibition The North Star Project: Authors from the Americas.
In sum, the American Library in Paris is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon browsing a used book sale, read, or find a new community of friends. Experience everything the American Library in Paris has to offer:
Address: 10 rue du Général Camou, 75007
Métro: École Militaire
Tél: +33 (0)1 53 59 12 60
Hours: Tues – Sat from 10h00 – 19h00, normal hours resume on Tue 17 Aug. Sunday hours resume in September. Summer: 15 Jul – 14 Aug : CLOSED, Tuesday-Saturday: 12h00-18h00, Sunday: CLOSED