The topic of the devastation of libraries during World War II has been well publicized. However, the American Library Association (ALA)’s assistance with postwar cultural rehabilitation of European and Asian libraries remains relatively unknown. The ALA’s “Aid to Libraries in War Areas” program, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, included former Axis powers such as Germany and Japan as well as the emerging Soviet bloc countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. The program dealt with both books and periodicals and its goal was to replenish, though on a limited scale, devastated collections with American publications unavailable to European and Asian libraries during wartime years.
This Noontime Scholars Lecture focuses on the program’s implementation and its implications for American cultural policy in Europe. Particular attention is given to individual requests for books and periodicals as they offer a firsthand account of the war devastation and an insight into various needs of Polish and German libraries. The lecture argues that, despite their different historical experiences, both Poland and Germany benefited from the ALA’s cultural engagement with Central and Eastern Europe helping their cultural and educational institutions to recover, if only symbolically, from dark years of wartime intellectual isolation.
Marek Sroka is Professor and Literature and Languages and Central European Studies Librarian at the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign. He holds an M.A. (English literature) from Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland, and an M.L.S. (library and information science) from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include the reconstruction of European libraries, war losses, and the repatriation of cultural objects in the aftermath of World War II. His articles appeared in The Polish Review, Library and Information History, Slavic and East European Information Resources, and Biuletyn Biblioteki Jagiellońskiej.