Education: America in Paris

When Gertrude Stein went on a mystery-reading kick, the American Library in Paris fed her doses of 18 whodunits a week; Poet Stephen Vincent Benét researched John Brown's Body within its walls, and Molotov once checked out an almanac. Since its start in 1920, the American Library—a nonprofit, privately operated institution now located on the Champs-Elysées—has been an outpost of U.S. culture that has soothed homesick tourists, stimulated bored expatriates, and provided facts—good or bad—about the U.S. to anyone who dropped by.

Last week the biggest English-language library in any non-English-speaking country was aswarm with Parisians back in town from their annual...