The A.L.A. and Armed Services Librarianship

After the success of supporting library service for soldiers during World War One and Two, A.L.A. members have been a part of the expansion of public library services including armed services librarianship across the country and overseas.

Read on to learn more about armed services librarianship!

Following World War Two, the U.S. military had a great public education opportunity ahead: to support the reentry of service men and women into civilian employment. However, the services of armed services librarians did not end there. Today, armed services librarians continue to provide services in armed services libraries. If you cannot visit such a library near you (and even if you can), then come take a tour of some of the A.L.A. Archives holdings where you can learn about the profession. So how do we navigate some of the A.L.A. Archives’ holdings related to armed forces librarianship? Let me walk you through how I answer general reference queries (after we’ve checked both of our reference library bookshelves, of course).

General Reference Information

First, I would recommend reading an introductory history of the profession.

Record Series 29/10/2 includes two printed versions of The Armed Services and Adult Education by Cyril O. Houle, Elbert W. Burr, Thomas H. Hamilton, and John R. Yale which is a study of adult education in Armed Forces libraries after World War Two. Researchers should see pages 195 to 215, for an overview of the establishment of armed services librarianship. Of course, pages 216 through 219 provides a great overview of the Armed Services Editions which were compact, economical publications for soldiers to carry and circulate freely.

Research Tip: Unpublished reports can contain significant information and reference resources about their topic of study. The A.L.A. Archives has many unpublished reports about librarianship which could serve as valuable models for studying many different dimensions of library, information, and many public services.


Next, I would insist on viewing publications to identify topics of interest.

Record Series 29/10/3 contains one printed copy of Studying the Military Community, prepared by the Military Community-Library Study Committee (of the Public Library Association’s Armed Forces Librarians Section). The publication features over twenty pages of guidance information for administering a military community library and almost thirty pages of questionnaire templates for improving library services.

Research tip: Regardless of age or subject, many old reports and professional publications still provide useful templates for contemporary researchers.

Record Series 29/10/8 contains recruitment brochures and manuals for prospected armed forces librarians. Some publications define military terminology while others describe armed services librarianship careers.

Research tip: Professional recruitment literature often includes visually-striking designs as well as information about how a profession represents itself. These publications can be valuable information resources for seeing how careers are presented in a culture in time.

Record Series 42/3/11 contains the publication Federal Librarian which includes both armed services and other federal librarians too. Since 1981, this quarterly publication has included messages from the Federal and Armed Forces Libraries Round Table presidents, conference information, meeting minutes, member news, and Round Table Board member contact information on the back of each issue.

Research tip: Professional publications often include reprints of meeting minutes which are not always donated to archives. However, it is good practice to compared published meeting minutes with original meeting minutes and meeting notes, whenever possible.

Subject Files

Then, I would advise consulting subject files to gather detailed notes on key people and issues.

Record Series 29/10/9 contains the subject files of the Public Library Association’s Armed Forces Librarians Section and the Armed Forces Librarians Round Table (AFLRT). Since the 1990s, the A.L.A. Archives has been receiving donations of administrative records about AFLRT presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries.

Research tip: Some subject files record series are quite larger than any other record series. Researchers should anticipate spending a lot of their time searching subject files, after consulting smaller record series to narrow their search inquiry. Of course, your local archivist may have a great deal of personal experience searching subject files; so, be sure to ask your local archivist for tips navigating your research.

Got Something to Donate to the Story So Far?

Many people have served as armed services librarians and the reward of connecting with new people is as a great as the effort to identify everyone. Do you have any information about armed services librarians, libraries, collaborators, publications, or beneficiaries? We welcome you to share your part of ALA history in the comments or to contact us. We and our readers would like to hear from you.