May 20, 1920: The American Library in Paris is created at 10 rue de l’Elysée, Paris

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1917 – The United States declares war on Germany on April 6, 1917, thus entering the First World War.

The Library War Service of the American Library Association (ALA) begins sending books to the American Expeditionary Forces.

1918 – As the Armistice is signed on November 11, 1918, more than 1.5 million books have been sent by the ALA to camp libraries. What to do with them?

Some of them are shipped then stored in a warehouse, and a temporary central reference library is quickly set up in Paris. The operation is supervised by Ohio librarian, author and ALA European Director Burton Stevenson.

This initiative soon generates a strong interest not only from demobilized soldiers and American expatriates, but from english speakers and french students as well.

Stevenson set up a meeting in late 1919 to gauge support of a permanent american library in Paris… a proposition that instantly gains traction.

Charles Seeger, father of the poet Alan Seeger killed during the war, donates 50,000 francs from his son’s poetry royalties.

1920 – On May 20, 1920 the American Library Association establishes under American Law, as a private nonprofit organization led by Burton Stevenson and Charles Seeger.

Three core principles are edicted: memorializing the American Expeditionary Force, promoting understanding and knowledge of the United States, and providing an example of the American library methods in Europe.

Its founding members and first trustees will count and author Edith Wharton, and its motto will forever keep the memory of the war in the mind of its staff and patrons: “Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux”“After the darkness of war, the light of books“, a saying that will gain a whole new meaning in the next decade.

1923 -Ex Libris, the monthly review, then quarterly newsletter of the Library is launched. Its contributors will include the most brilliants expatriate writers of the time, from Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein.

1930 – A charming and energetic young woman joins the library in the circulation department.

Her name is , a former librarian at the Library of Congress, who fell in love with Europe.

She is soon promoted to the periodicals department, and will become a key player of the Library in the coming years.

1933 – The launches the Literary Evenings. André Gide, Ford Madox Ford, Colette, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller contribute to the Literary Evenings and to Ex Libris.

The story continues…

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© LibrAdventures, Fabien Hurelle

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