World War I spread tragedy and despair across the world, but the American Library Association worked to brighten the spirits of wounded soldiers. In 1917, the American Library Association provided library services to wounded soldiers and delivered books, newspapers, and magazines to more than 200 army and navy hospitals. The ALA was able to send trained librarians to 75 military hospitals to aid in the outreach.
While the ALA War Service supplied great amounts of reading materials to soldiers abroad, a great amount of administrative reading materials were produced too. These can be found in Record Series 89/1/60, which contains promotional pamphlets and administrative reports.
Read on to learn about Library War Service publications!
With centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I coming up on April 6, the American Library Association Archives is commemorating the centennial of the Library War Service, which was formed shortly after the US entered the Great War. Keep an eye on our blog, social media, and our site for the different ways that we’re remembering the Library War Service! Continue reading “Commemorating the Library War Service”
During the course of U.S. involvement in World War I, the American Library Association collected $5 million in donations for the Library War Service, a service that accumulated a collection of ten million publications and established thirty-six camp libraries across the United States and Europe. It was the ALA Library War Service’s mission to provide “a book for every man.”
The Library War Service accomplished a great deal in a short time. According to the June 1918 War Library Bulletin, there were 385,310 books shipped overseas. At that time, there were also 237 small military camps and posts equipped with book collections and 249 naval and marine stations and vessels supplied with libraries.  The books were well-received by soldiers and sailors alike, and unmistakably utilized widely. Vice-Admiral Albert Gleaves of the US Navy wrote:
“Do the sailors read very much? Do the soldiers read very much? I know from personal observation that the books were in constant demand, and that they were in constant circulation. They were placed as a rule near the troop compartments for the soldiers, and for the sailors they were placed in their compartments. The books were allotted to them and they would draw these books; they were not responsible in any way for their condition or what became of them. If the books were lost, that was profit and loss to the A. L. A., and didn’t concern the sailor man. There was no compulsion, no restraint; they had free access to these books.” 
Continue reading “The Books They Read: Library War Service in WWI”
In honor of Black History Month and the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, it is only fitting to discuss the service of African Americans in the war and to highlight a few materials we have here at the archives that illustrate their contributions.
In 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which Woodrow Wilson then signed into law, thus initiating the draft. It required all young men, regardless of race, to register for service . Subsequently, more than 2.2 million black men registered over the course of four draft calls , of which nearly 370,000 were then inducted into the Army .
W.E.B. Du Bois was one of many African American leaders and activists who saw the war as a chance to advance racial progress, hoping that racial equality would follow at the war’s end when Americans saw their loyalty and service to their country. He urged black men to put the fight for civil rights on hold during the war, writing in The Crisis, “first your Country, then your Rights!” .
While most of the American Library Association Library War Service’s efforts were concentrated in camps and hospitals in the United States and Europe, there was also a need for books for the soldiers stationed along the Mexican border. Chalmers Hadley, the librarian of the Denver Public Library, surveyed the desire for books among soldiers at the border and found them wanting.
In early 1918, Hadley observed that, “It is vastly different to find thousands of men requesting books, and hanging on a promise of some … It will be a great misfortune to the men and a lost opportunity to the A.L.A. if the traveling libraries are not provided.”  To satisfy the demand for books, two traveling libraries were established by the ALA and headquartered in the San Antonio Carnegie Library and at the El Paso Public Library in Texas.
The connection between the ALA and the American Merchant Marine Library Association (AMMLA) is a little-known example of collaboration and cooperation between organizations. AMMLA developed out of the World War I Library War Service and ALA’s efforts to provide books and resources to men aboard U. S. vessels. (For more information about the Library War Service, please see our research guide). After the war ended, the library service for American servicemen was turned over to the War and Navy Departments, and the Library War Service Committee hoped that it’s work aboard U.S. ships would be taken over by either shipowners or another organization . Finally, after the request from ALA to form a peace-time library service for this purpose, Alice Sturdevant Howard, Chief of the Social Service Bureau of the Recruiting Service of the United States Shipping Board, organized the American Merchant Marine Library Service in 1921 . To aid the effort, ALA donated the leftover book stock used in the Merchant Marine Service as well as some unexpended funds . Continue reading ““Public Library of the High Seas”: ALA and the American Merchant Marine Library Association”
“[T]he blind soldier is the spirit of war, of the battlefront, of France,” said Jerry O’Connor, a blinded Cantigny veteran from World War I, during his award-winning speech titled The Duty of the Blind Soldier to the Blind Civilian at the Red Cross Institute for the Blind’s Public Speaking Contest in 1920. “We have the mud of the trenches upon our feet, gold chevrons upon our sleeves, and the scars of War upon our faces. Whether we deserve it or not, people stare at us, send us gifts, invite us to their homes, give us sympathy. Such circumstances place the blind soldier in a position where, when he speaks, he can be heard. Consequently, if the conditions of the blind can be improved, the blind soldier should speak – and be heard.” Identifying two major obstacles for blind people as “the habit of the public to look upon the blind man as incapable, sensitive, and helpless” and the lack of educational opportunities for the adult blind person, O’Connor called for public programs to address these obstacles for the blind. One of the institutions responding to this call for action would be the American Library Association. Continue reading “Library Service for the Blind”
Burton Egbert Stevenson (1872-1962) was surprised to find himself named the foremost ALA representative in Europe for the Library War Services campaign during the first World War. A college dropout from Princeton University and aspiring novelist, he fell into the library profession after marrying Chillicothe Public Librarian, Elisabeth Shephard Butler and accepting a librarian position at the same library in 1899. Continue reading “Burton E. Stevenson: ALA Representative in Europe”
Festschrifts are a common way to honor someone in academia, and line the shelves of many academic libraries. They typically contain academic essays related to the person’s life work, contributed traditionally by the person’s former doctoral students and colleagues. But what about a Festschrift that’s instead full of nothing but praise for the person being honored gathered from common workers in their field, and furthermore isn’t for an academic, but instead for a public-service librarian? This is the final issue of Libraries magazine, honoring one Mary Eileen Ahern. Continue reading “Miss “Public Libraries” Mary Eileen Ahern”