INSPIRELLE loves the American Library in Paris, which is not only a great resource for English-speaking books and magazines, but home to an exciting variety of literary and cultural events open to members and non-members alike.
This summer, the library underwent major renovations to modernize their premises and make the library even more welcoming. Changes include larger windows to let in more natural light, additional event and work spaces, and state-of-the art automatic book check out/return machines (with new ‘smart’ library cards coming soon). All this, plus a brand-new members’ lounge where visitors can have a coffee and a chat – no whispering necessary!
A Look Inside the New American Library in Paris
We spoke with Pauline Lemasson, the Library’s External Relations Manager, about the significant updates that have been made to respond to the evolving needs of its users, and what visitors can look forward to this fall.
Upcoming events include an October 12 screening of the documentary And I Still Rise about poet Maya Angelou, an evening of “Twisted Tales” with YA author Amy Plum on November 4, and on October 29, the extremely popular Halloween Extravaganza. (Click here for the full calendar of events.)
Pauline, congratulations on all the exciting changes. Can you tell us more about the motivation behind the renovations? What did you have to do to prepare?
The design of the renovated Library is the product of several years of study and conversation. Over the last several years, we conducted a members’ survey, focus groups, staff and trustee retreats, as well as architectural and structural analyses.
We’ve been reading about how libraries are changing to serve the many needs of their users, including spaces for quiet study, conversation, research, and education.
Of course, the huge advances in information technology make it possible to offer a multitude of resources that take up little physical space.
On the staff level, we used the months leading up to the Library’s closure for renovation to really consider the size and scope of our collection. We were fortunate to find a permanent home for a good portion of our periodical archives at the CTLes, which operates a state-of-the-art library under the French Ministry of Education. These items are still accessible by request, which makes them available off-site and therefore liberated space in our lower level for a reading room and study rooms.
Did you discover any hidden treasures during the packing-up process?
We think we know our collection well, and yet we do always find something interesting each time we take a close look. More than anything, we found signed copies of books by authors in our collection, particularly one by Willa Cather, which we didn’t know about. We’ve found personal items like old tickets for the train, theater and exhibitions, as well as receipts and hand-written notes inserted between pages of books that we assume were maybe used as bookmarks or reminders.
What differences will visitors notice when the library reopens? Are there any behind-the-scenes differences they might not know about?
Our members and daily/weekly pass users will notice a repositioned entrance and new window treatments on our facade. This will bring in much more natural light into the newly created members’ lounge – a place where people can gather, talk and browse magazines and newspapers.
Perhaps the most dramatic change is the lower level, beginning with the main staircase leading towards it. What used to be an underused space filled with stacks of rarely consulted historic periodicals is now a secondary reading room with the potential to become a multipurpose program and educational space. We’ve also added more study space in the mezzanine along with an expanded display area for children’s books and parents’ shelf.
During the closure, you encouraged members to explore the library’s digital resources. Can you tell us more about them?
We launched OverDrive around the time that we closed for renovation. It’s a great e-books platform with a carefully selected collection of fiction and nonfiction that we hope our members have been enjoying. As well, we have e-magazines through Zinio and an array of academic digital databases. Our digital resources really enhance our physical collection, which of course was not accessible during our renovation. I personally can no longer live without my digital copies of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker!
Are you planning a special event for the re-opening? What activities will it feature?
We officially opened to the public on Tuesday August 30, but we continue to be in the final phases of construction. So, we’re still a bit dusty and noisy! Our big re-opening is scheduled on Sunday, September 25 from 1pm to 7pm. It’s also our fall open house, so the Library is free and open to the public, and we welcome anyone who wants to discover all that we have to offer.
We’ll have guided tours led by our architect Lia Kiladis and director Charles Trueheart, hands-on tutorials with our digital resources, a special story time and family scavenger hunt, and voter registration for visitors who are U.S. citizens. As a treat, we’ll lay out some of our archival treasures to highlight the Library’s 96 years in Paris, including historic photos, rare books, and other artifacts.
Of course we’ll have refreshments from Starbucks Coffee, Marks & Spencer and artisanal doughnuts from Boneshaker Donuts!
What events can the public look forward to this fall at the library?
We have lots of great evening programs in the fall. We started with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley and then Anna Katherina Schaffner talking about exhaustion from a historical perspective in early September. On September 27, author Luc Sante will read from his much-praised book, The Other Paris. We end the month of September with a screening of Mona Lisa is Missing on September 28, which will be a fun, ‘whudunit’ documentary on the theft of that famous painting from a famous museum. Our full calendar of events is on our website, and events are open to the public.