The Monuments Men

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Jenny Delsaux ( 1896-1977 )

Jenny Delsaux was a preeminent librarian whose methods of cataloguing became the standard in her field. Her pioneering career began at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1926, where she worked as a librarian. In 1939 she wrote a theoretical book on the alphabetical cataloguing of subject matters following the example of the Sachkatalog popularized in German libraries. Other literacy contributions include Bibliothèques: traitement, catalogage, conservation des livres et des documents (a handbook on the direction of libraries) as well as collaborating on the first set of instructions for the analytical cataloguing of the National Library.

In June 1945 Delsaux was chosen to lead a sub-commission created by the Commission de Récupération artistique (French Commission for Art Recovery) for the return of books stolen from France by the Nazis. She was nominated for the position by her friend and colleague, André Masson, Inspector General of Libraries. During the next six years, Delsaux worked tirelessly to locate possible repositories for looted archives in France and Germany. Working with a small staff and budget, she successfully coordinated the sub-commission’s efforts to locate, recover, sort, and eventually return thousands of French-owned books and documents. This seemingly insurmountable task was made all the more stressful by constant pressure from doctors, lawyers, musicians, and researchers all anxious to regain the material needed to resume their studies after the war. By 1948, Delsaux found herself in a race against time because the French Government constantly threatened to cut funding for the sub-commission. Still, she remained undaunted by outside influences until 1950. Shortly before her departure, she estimated that around 1.1 million books were returned by the sub-commission to a total of 2,312 dispossessed individuals and 412 institutions.

Delsaux then resumed her career as a librarian. The leading expert on cataloguing, she herself even admitted, “I am the pope of records.” She trained hundreds of students at the Sorbonne, her courses in cataloguing guiding the next generation of librarians through the completion of the Diplôme technique de bibliothécaire (DTB, a technical degree for librarians) and the dossiers de bibliographie spécialisée" (DSB, an exam testing a student’s bibliographical skills).

The Foundation is very interested in learning more about Delsaux’s life, as well as her work as a Monuments Woman. If you have any information, please contact abottinelli@monumentsmenfoundation.org.