Within a few weeks of America’s entrance into World War I, the American Library Association undertook an enormous campaign to send books and other reading materials to American forces at home and abroad.
The ALA collected $5 million in donations, amassed a collection of ten
million books and magazines, and set up thirty-six camp libraries with the help of the Carnegie Corporation. “A book for every man” was the initial aim.
According to the March, 1919 ALA Bulletin, this motto was eventually regarded as “yet another casualty to the boneyard of discarded slogans” resulting from the war’s end.
At the height of U.S. involvement in the war, the ALA was not able to maintain a sufficient supply of reading materials. Large numbers of books were lost between American and Europe, greatly reducing the effectiveness of the U.S. libraries in France. And, as librarian John Cotton Dana noted, 7 million books for 4.5 million solders was not enough.
Despite these significant shortcomings, the Library War Services Program was an impressive first demonstration of mass library service to armed forces.
Military departments assimilated the ALA programs after the armistice. Hospital library service also continued, first under the U.S. Public Health Service and then under the sponsorship of the Veteran’s Bureau.