The American Library in Paris recently celebrated its Centennial Gala, a stunning testament to an institution that has stood the test of time including two world wars, depression and now COVID-19. The American Library has lasted 100 years because of its ability to explore new ideas and adapt. In response to the novel coronavirus, the Library successfully executed the novel idea of a truly hybrid virtual affair.
The Gala is the most important fundraising event of the year for the Library. This year’s gala combined virtual programming with simultaneous intimate small dinners hosted at the homes of Library supporters in Paris and beyond. I had the honor of attending virtually, joining the Library’s biggest supporters, favorite authors and friends as we dressed, lifted our glasses and interacted with each other via a live video stream, to support and celebrate 100 years of tenacity and community spirit. This support is all the more crucial as the Library navigates the financial impact of COVID-19. Today more than ever, we realize that libraries are more than a repository for books. According to TS Elliot, “the very existence of libraries provides the best proof that we can still have hope for the future of man.”
Ambassador to France and Monaco Jamie McCourt helped kick off the event by offering a toast to the Library, declaring that “a century after its founding, the Library is a monument to American excellence in Paris”.
This milestone event included a live keynote address and a chat with journalist, renowned author and library supporter, Susan Orlean, winner of the Gala. Library Director Audrey Chapuis introduced Orlean, saying “she understands the soul of libraries”. Orlean is the author of eight books including The orchid thief, which was made into an Oscar winning film Adaptation. In 2018, she published the New York Times Remarkable and best-selling book The library book about the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library arson attack. Winner of the California Book Award and the Marfield Prize, The library book is an ode to the libraries of yesterday and today.
Among other illustrious guests, a special appearance and a tribute to the Library of literary luminary Adam Gopnik, acclaimed author of Paris to the Moon, helped add to the toppings of this big party.
The interactive online event also included a silent auction and a captivating virtual walk through the Library’s past decades in never-before-seen archival footage that captured many memories, documents and photos retracing the Library’s rich history. .
The American library is used to navigating uncharted territory. It was founded in 1920 by the American Library Association to house a huge collection of books sent to American soldiers fighting in World War I. Its motto “Dark after the war, books of the light of the(After the darkness of war, the light of books) reflects the spirit of his creation. True to its charter, which promised to bring the best of American literature, culture, and librarianship to readers in France, the Library persevered through the dark days of World War II and the German occupation to pursue this mission. The role of this non-profit library goes well beyond the simple loan of books and remains a symbol of American and French relations. Dorothy Reeder, the heroic American director of the library during World War II, acknowledged this truth, reaffirming that the library’s mission was “to help best serve the morale realm.” The WWII slogan “We are all in the same boat” is as true today as it was then.
Since its inception, the library has grown considerably to become the largest English language lending library on the European continent. It was hosted in different places in Paris until 1965, when it opened the doors of its current home rue de Général Camou, nestled in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It is an inviting destination for more than 80,000 visitors each year, who appreciate the vast resources of academic, historical and popular documents available for loan and consultation. A literary center, the Library annually hosts more than 70 free public programs and panels featuring authors, filmmakers, journalists and other leading public figures and experts.
A very unique library, it has never received federal funding and exists through continuous fundraising and philanthropic donations and grants. He managed to create a small community atmosphere in the center of Paris. With over 5,000 members of all ages and nationalities, the library serves as a place to bridge the divide between the United States and France. It continued to serve as a welcoming haven in Paris, a sanctuary that celebrates the written word and fosters personal ties. Library director Chapuis noted that the library’s cultural programs are “just as important as the books themselves”.
Completely renovated in 2016, the library is now even more welcoming, with more study space on the mezzanine and lower levels, and a members’ lounge where people can congregate, sip coffee, browse the newspaper and discuss. Homesick members can access the news and archive issues of the New York Times online. Daily and weekly passes are available.
Members benefit from improved services, including:
* Loan privileges on over 100,000 books and over 90 current newspapers and magazines
* Digital databases, internet and other scientific resources
* Free secure WiFi and use of desktop computers
* Search help
* Participation in a rich program of events, workshops and activities for members of all age groups, including:
* Lecture series where distinguished speakers enlighten the audience in the evening
* Monthly book groups
* Conversation circles in English and French
* Children’s programs, including Playtime for Babies; Toddler Time offers books, nursery rhymes and songs in English for children aged 1 to 3 and their caregivers; Story time for ages 3-5, and of course the annual Halloween party, the biggest event of the year for kids and teens.
* Teen services where teens and tweens can enjoy monthly teen nights (12-18) and teen clubs like the Teen Writing Group and the Master Shot Film Club.
Reaching its centenary at a time of great challenges and change, the American Library is more vital than ever and an integral part of the American community in Paris. Since the Library’s renovation in 2016, memberships, foot traffic, book loans, electronic database use and program participation have increased across the board. The Library continues to serve the needs of an international community of members dedicated to exchanging ideas and broadening their horizons through books.
Going forward, the library has launched Project 100, the centennial campaign that will raise funds for the American library of the future. The cornerstone of the campaign will be the expansion of the children’s and youth library, to keep pace with the more than 5,000 children and adolescents who attended more than 290 events in 2019 alone. Library Board Chair Forrest Alogna said he was excited: “The expansion of our children’s and youth library is an investment in our younger members and in our future – I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate our centenary. ” In addition to doubling and renovating this space, a new conference room for reading groups and discussion groups will be built on the mezzanine.
In today’s difficult economic climate, many challenges lie ahead as the Library continues to adapt to new realities. Since 1920, the library has been supported by Americans and French who believe in the power of libraries. The Library has honored its remarkable heritage and continued to thrive thanks to its dedicated staff, dedicated board of directors, dedicated volunteers and the enthusiastic support of its members. As Ray Bradbury aptly put it: “Without libraries, what have we? We have neither past nor future. This historic institution is 100 years old – still vital, dynamic and useful, and reinforced by a solid, century-old foundation on which to learn from the past and hope for a bright future.
Location: 10 rue du Général Camou, 7e arrondissement