Taking Books to the People, part 3: ALA and World War I

One hundred years ago this month, President Wilson asked Congress for a Declaration of War on April 2, 2017.  The war had been raging in Europe since 1914 and had reached a stalemate.  Congress granted Wilson’s request  with  Public Resolution 65-1, 40 STAT 1

WWI map of Europe

In 1917, the American Library Association, “…Executive Board appointed the Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans (later the War Service Committee). Soldier marching off to warALA undertook to supply books and periodicals to military personnel, at home and overseas. The initial campaign raised $1M for camp libraries, as well as including a book drive.”

At that time ALA membership was only about 3,300, and between 1917 and 1920, the group:

  • mounted two financial campaigns and raised $5 million from public donations
  • erected thirty-six camp libraries with $320,000 in Carnegie Corporation funds
  • distributed approximately 7-10,000,000 books and magazines; and
  • provided library collections to over 500 locations, including in military hospitals.

This 1917 effort marked what was to become the military Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Libraries.    After the U.S. declared war on April 6, 1917, “an ALA representative met with Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. As one participant noted, Secretary Baker kept “a room full of senators and diplomats and other dignitaries waiting” while he developed plans to provide adequate library facilities for the Doughboys. Shortly thereafter, the ALA established a Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans to examine ways of ensuring that Army personnel would have quick and easy access to books, newspapers, and magazines. Within three months of declaring war, the U.S. Commission on Training Camp Activities invited the ALA to assume responsibility “for providing adequate library facilities” for thirty-two of the Army’s cantonments.”

Added on 3 June from the USMC MCCS Libraries site:

2017 marks the centennial of the United States of America entering WWI. To commemorate this momentous occasion, the MCCS Library Program has teamed up with Sister Service MWR Libraries to create the Remember WWI project. The project will run from March 2017 through Dec 2018. During that time, multiple topics will be explored both in person and online.
The Great War was to be the war to end all wars and it shaped a legacy in medicine, technology, geopolitically and socially.
The United States declared war on April 6, 1917, allying with England in their fight with the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Many current technologies and traditions got their start during the war. Everything from blood drives to air warfare to prosthesis. The Army, Navy and USMC MWR Library programs can track their own roots back to this conflict. The American Library Association oversaw the creation of libraries at the front, staffing and stocking them. The service members’ need for professional and recreational reading was fulfilled by librarians delivering books to the military before they left the home front and while in combat. These efforts spurred the eventual creation of the MWR libraries.

In addition to providing books for the troops, WWI also provided an opportunity for women to assume more leadership roles in ALA.    They served as camp librarians, military hospital librarians, as well as members of the Library War Services Committee.WWI hospital

Putnam (Librarian of  Congress during WWI) didn’t want women serving in Camp Libraries.  Today the majority of librarians are women, both in civilian and military libraries around the world.  Do you know any military librarians?  Do you know any currently serving military or vets who have used military libraries?  Join in the conversation and share your favorite libraries go to war story.

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