The American Alpine Club Library and Archive has supported and documented the activities of the club since 1916, and continues to serve as a resource to members, scholars, authors, journalists and the public, as well as a premier repository of the cultural record of climbing.
The American Alpine Club Library was established by a gift from Henry Montagnier, an American mountaineer living in Europe. Mr. Montagnier's collection was augmented by early Club members and grew to over 4,000 volumes focused on the Alps, with a particular interest in Mont Blanc, and includes many volumes which are quite rare or scarce today.
Montagnier established his library in Italy. Prior to WWI, he relocated the library to Switzerland due to rising political concerns. In 1911, after the Italian government accused him of being a spy, he offered the library to the American Alpine Club. In 1929, the AAC deposited the Montagnier collection at the New York Public Library, which devoted an entire room to the AAC. At that time, the collection comprised member-contributed mountaineering books about mountain regions in Europe, the Himalayas, and North America, as well as photographic materials and cultural artifacts obtained during expeditions. Maud Cole, Keeper of Rare Books at the NYPL made the collection the subject of her publication "The American Alpine Club and the Montagnier Memorial Library."
In 1941, the AAC purchased a remodeled firehouse in Manhattan as its permanent headquarters. A formal library and reading room was created as one of the world's comprehensive resources documenting pre-WWI culture in the European Alps.
In an effort to improve accessibility to its growing membership, the AAC headquarters and Library were moved to Golden, Colorado in 1993. A 1922 Beaux Arts building was purchased and renovated by the AAC, the Colorado Mountain Club, and Outward Bound West. The 3rd floor of the building features a mural by noted Santa Fe artist Gerald R. Cassidy, entitled Dawn of the West. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Soon after, AAC member and 1983 Everest Expedition member John Boyle donated the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library consisting of 2500 books in 28 languages (40% in English), 400 expedition reports, and 100 videos and films. Approximately half of the books are autographed by expedition participants. A significant portion of the collection, 300 volumes, were obtained by Mr. Boyle in 1987, from the estate of Anders Bolinder, a Swedish mountaineer. The John M. Boyle Himalayan Library was also expanded in the late 1980s by extensive assistance from the Japanese Alpine Club. Mr. Boyle's collection mission was to obtain and maintain as complete a record as possible of mountaineering expeditions to the 8000 meter peaks of the Himalayas. To that end, he helped to establish the Bolinder Fund, an American Alpine Club endowment to continue acquisitions to the present day.
In 2002, the library was renamed the Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library, to celebrate a long-time AAC member and AAC past-president. In 2008, the AAC and the Colorado Mountain Club opened the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum, named for the famed aerial photographer and mountaineer. Washburn was named director of the New England Museum of Natural History in Boston in 1939. For the next 40 years he remained the director, bringing about the relocation and renaming of the museum to Boston's Museum of Science, all the while participating in and documenting significant mountaineering expeditions well into his 80s. In 2009, the AAC was presented with 175 Washburn photographs on permanent loan from a generous, anonymous member.
The most recent acquisition–a 2008 gift of 30,000 bound volumes (with thousands more to come in 2014) of the Central Asia Library by a private collector–follows the tradition by which the AAC Library itself was established. The Library will continue to grow as other significant explorers, athletes, and scholars donate their collections.
In addition to holding books and archival material, the AAC has a history of publication which includes the annual American Alpine Journal, established in 1929, and Accidents in North American Mountaineering, published jointly with the Alpine Club of Canada since 1948, which documents 50 years of statistics and analysis of mountaineering incidents. As a small press, the club has published several classics of climbing history over the years, such as Where the Clouds Can Go, an autobiography of legend Conrad Kain, written with 1941-43 AAC Club President James Monroe Thorington. Other monographs include High Alaska and Wild Snow. Members and officials of the club are entwined in almost every mountain climbing serial published today. Ranks of the membership also include numerous authors of significant works in the annals of climbing literature. The AAC also sponsors an annual award to recognize excellence by American writers in the field of alpine literature.