After the Armistice


The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, brought an end to the Great War, however it did not bring an end to the American Library Association’s war service. The period after the war actually accounted for the busiest time for Library War Service as many servicemen were still stationed in Europe, in hospitals, in transport, and even stuck in military camps back in the United States, and were in need of books.

During the 1919 ALA Annual Conference, the War Service Committee noted that, “The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918, brought fresh demands and opportunities and opened the way for a work which in volume and extent far exceeded previous efforts. The large camps at home were far slower in closing than had been expected … hospital service quickly assumed surprising proportions; service to crews and soldiers required tens of thousands of books …”

With the end of the war, the morale of soldiers unable to go home immediately was a concern, along with the dangers of boredom. One publication from the ALA wrote of the need for books to keep servicemen from longing for home and keep them occupied, warning that, “They need books to offset tendencies to roam away from camp, to keep doubtful company, to brood and to long for home. The men must be kept in a cheerful, contented frame of mind.”

However, this demand for books and magazines proved to be an uphill battle for the ALA.  While the Association experienced great success in collecting books, money, and volunteers during the war, the urgency for these donations and services faded in the eyes of the public after November of 1918 as was noted in a report about the Library War Service, given during the 1919 ALA Annual Conference: “But the general public, solicited for continuing supplies of books and magazines, even some librarians and library trustees, solicited for the indispensable personal service, have often surprisingly failed to appreciate that the armistice ended neither the war nor the imperative need of service to the forces which were waging it.”



The Library War Service provided job training for soldiers to help them integrate into the workforce back home. These services were provided during the war and after, but the armistice signaled a particular urgency to train for jobs. Vocational courses were provided and technical manuals and books were stocked in the camp libraries, including books on business, engineering, plumbing, and carpentry. The ALA also produced publications such as Books at Work and Your Job Back Home, which encouraged men to study and provided listings of resources.

A letter from an ex-sergeant was published to illustrate the importance of the ALA’s work after the armistice. He wrote that, “After the armistice was signed I visited the Library practically every day until discharged and was able to study and complete plans for my life-work.”  The sergeant continued to write for a need for a library within his community at home and that he would even pay for the same library services he had access to through the Library War Service during and after the war.



ALA volunteers in Paris, February 27, 1919. RS 89/1/27

World War I changed the American Library Association in a profound way. Before the Great War, the ALA did little other than hold annual conferences, but with the United States’ entry into World War I, the Association transformed itself into a public service organization. That sense of service did not go away at the end of the war and as servicemen finally returned home.

Chalmers Hadley, president of the ALA from 1919-1920, encompassed the sentiment of the Association in a circular letter sent in 1919, “We as librarians could never again be satisfied with pre-war library conditions. We have seen bigger things: we have done bigger things. With our responsibility to the War and Navy Departments discharged, what then lies before us?”

The answer was to be the Enlarged Program, an expansion of ALA’s programs, however it could not be sustained and its initiatives ended in 1920. But other lasting legacies came out of the Library War Service, such as hospital library service, the American Library in Paris, and the American Merchant Marine Library Association. And, most importantly for the Association, it demonstrated what the ALA was capable of, public service and leadership. The experience of the Library War Service helped to shape the Association into a engaged and publicly conscious organization.