Library War Service, 1917-1920
By Mary Margaret Mahoney
The United States mobilized quickly after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917. Troops travelled to the front with the help of massive mobilization efforts to provide weapons, food, and books. The Library War Service, formed by the Library of Congress and the American Library Association (ALA), created a national system to collect and distribute books to troops at home and abroad during and after the war. Between 1917 and 1920, the Library War Service distributed approximately 7-10 million books and magazines. The Service built 36 camp libraries to incorporate reading into daily life, and provided library collections to over 500 locations, including military hospitals.
The Library War Service was originally coordinated under the leadership of the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA), an arm of the War Department that managed work by government approved aid organizations. The American Library Association, an approved aid organization, created the Library War Service initially to provide books that would help men in their training, teaching war tactics and weapons use, for example. As historian Nancy Bristow notes, it also fit the broader goal of the CTCA to keep American men “physically healthy and morally pure, free of the traditional degradation of training camp culture.” Progressive reformers approached the war as a chance to use state power to achieve progressive goals through the work of private individuals and organizations. In 1916, YMCA workers travelled to the Mexican border where American troops conducted border patrols. Reformers were horrified by the rampant gambling, prostitution and drinking they witnessed there. Determined to use books to combat this immorality in the war, librarians used books as a moral form of recreation, and a progressive means of reform. Through the books librarians provided soldiers, librarians could re-form them into Americans who reflected progressive goals of morality, social hygiene and efficiency, and in so doing, help the war effort. “This war must not be a war of destruction only,” the War Library Bulletin reported. “It must be carried on constructively as well. The result must be a net gain to humanity. Our fighting men must receive during inevitable leisure hours in training and service the humanizing, helpful effects of good reading.”
At its annual meeting in April of 1917, the Library War Service formed and appointed leaders in each state to oversee the collection of books to distribute to soldiers. The ALA would purchase the rest of the necessary books and build libraries in camps from funds donated by the public through a subscription campaign, and from funds donated by the Carnegie Cooperation. Each state would appoint a contact person at its state library in charge of coordinating book donations and fundraising. Caroline Hewins, librarian at Hartford Public Library and Secretary of the Connecticut Public Library Campaign, served as chairman of the Connecticut Library War Service. A pioneer in children’s librarianship, she lived in a settlement house in the years before the war, and her politics reflected a progressive vision that those working in the Library War Service shared. She reported Connecticut’s donations and Library War Service work throughout the war, largely in articles published in the Hartford Courant.
Connecticut newspapers reported on Library War Service work in the state throughout the war. Focusing mostly on donation and fundraising drives, it revealed the commitment of Connecticut residents to providing books for soldiers. “Almost all of the boys here would rather read than play cards and our most exciting gambling when a book appears [is] to draw straws to see who’ll be second and third and fourth on the waiting list,” the Norwich Bulletin quoted one soldier saying. “Any book will do,” he noted. “Some like novels and, some like histories, and some like books of travel. But in a pinch we’ll find good reading in even an arithmetic or grammar.” Cities across the state contributed books in great numbers. In May 1918, the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer reported 100, 418 total donations: Hartford 5, 240 books, New Haven 7,399, Bridgeport 15,000 and Waterbury 25, 411. “One day in March was designated ‘Collection Day,’” the report noted of Waterbury’s book drive, “and an automobile canvass was made of the entire city.”
Some of the books collected for army camps and naval stations were distributed to servicemen in Connecticut. A July 1918 shipment of 3,600 books to New London provided 50 books for each submarine chaser and an allotment to the naval hospital and the troops at New York’s Fort Wright and Fort Michie, located on Long Island Sound.
A majority of the books donated were intended to help soldiers escape the hardships of war, to, in the words of one soldier, “furnish some dreary dugout with a magic carpet.” Beyond escape, books helped men prepare for war, and offered a means of learning the history and language of countries they travelled to at the front. At the end of the war, the War Service also focused on providing vocational books to help men prepare to rejoin the workforce. Beyond educational, recreational, and vocational uses, however, the Library War Service also provided therapeutic reading.
At United States Army General Hospital No. 16 in New Haven, Library War Service librarian Louise Sweet helped treat patients with tuberculosis. There, she assembled a library for their use with special attention to tuberculosis. Specifically, she restricted mystery novels that she believed might cause pulses to rise or increase temperatures, for example. Sweet was a librarian influenced by the war work to believe that books could heal, and that librarians could create a science of its use, eventually called bibliotherapy. Sweet believed strongly in the therapeutic value of the Library War Service. “It is evanescent,” Sweet wrote of the healing power of books, “as are all spiritual values, fluctuating with time, place and mood of the man, and in a tuberculosis hospital the latter is closely involved with the weather. It is a live book that can break through the apathy that enshrouds the bed patients on a rainy day.”
After both sides declared an armistice on November 11, 1918, the Library War Service became part of the Army and Navy departments. The Veterans Bureau, a precursor to the Veterans Administration, also provided service in Veterans hospitals. The Library War Service achieved its progressive goal of using state power to promote social hygiene, efficiency and citizenship through reading. Through its libraries, the Service provided soldiers and sailors with education, recreation, consolation and vocational training to prepare for life after war.
- April 2, 1917 – President Woodrow Wilson appears before a joint session of Congress to request. a declaration of war against Germany.
- June 22-28, 1917 – At its annual meeting, the American Library Association (ALA) approves the Library Mobilization Committee’s recommendation that the ALA be instrumental in providing access to books during the war. It establishes the War Service Committee to oversee library service in training camps.
- August 18, 1917 – Caroline Hewins, librarian of Hartford Public Library, Secretary of the Connecticut Public Library Committee, and chairman of Connecticut Library War Service announces the start of a book drive beginning August 23rd, all books to be collected at the State Library.
- September 24, 1917 – The start of Library War Fund week in the states. The Library War Service would rely on donated books to create its library of fiction, and on donated funds to purchase the non-fiction, educational and vocational books it needed for its libraries.
- October 1917 – Popular subscription raises $1.7 million for the Library War Service efforts to build camp libraries and buy books to supplement donations.
- April 1918 – Library War Service reports: 36 camp libraries built, 117 librarians in the field, 464 camps, stations and vessels served, 109,403 selected books sent overseas, 300,000 books purchased, largely technical, 1,349,000 gift books sent to camps and stations, 5,000,000 magazines distributed systematically.
- April 1918 – Connecticut reports contributions of 112,211 books. Of this total, Bridgeport contributed 15,000 books, and Hartford 3,000.
- June 1918 – Library War Service reports: 36 camp library buildings erected, 41 large camp libraries established, 91 hospitals and Red Cross houses supplied with books, 212 librarians in the service, 237 small military camps and posts equipped with book collections, 249 naval and marine stations and vessels supplied with libraries, 1,323 branches and stations placed in Y.M.C.A. and Knights of Columbus huts, barracks and mess halls, 385, 310 books shipped overseas, 411, 505 books purchased, largely technical, 2,100,000 gift books in service.
- April-August 1918 – The ALA establishes a permanent headquarters overseas at 10 rue de l’Elysee in Paris. From there, books shipped overseas from Dispatch Offices get distributed to aid organizations with established routes to hospitals and camps of the American Expeditionary Forces. Previously, the Library War Service was based firmly in the United States, servicing training camps, bases, and hospitals domestically. This shift represents a turn toward providing a service to men fighting and recuperating from war, not solely men preparing to fight.
- October 1918 – The Library War Service establishes a free mailing program for men in the American Expeditionary Force. They can write to the headquarters in Paris and request any book and have it mailed to them, “no red tape, no charge of any sort.”
- November 11, 1918 – Armistice day marks the cessation of hostilities between the Allied powers and Germany, ending the war on the western front.
- May 1, 1919 – By May 1st, overseas shipments amounted to 2,478,219, of which 1 million were technical books. By the end of the war, the Service focused on vocational training that would prepare men to reenter the workforce, in addition to offering recreational and therapeutic reading. At the end of the war, overseas service included the central library in Paris, 15 regional libraries it served, and 1,200 points of service reaching Americans serving across France. Americans serving in Germany received books from a central library in Coblenz. The Library War Service also placed libraries in 228 military hospitals, where librarians staffed 60 of them.
- 23, 1919 – A meeting of Library War Service decides that the Army and Navy will inherit the postwar Library War Service
- 1, 1919 – Sioux City Hospital Service established by librarian who served in the war as a Camp Librarian. Noting the therapeutic value of books to patients in military hospitals, this librarian was one of many who returned home to his public library after the war and established service in local hospitals to experiment with the healing power of books.
How to Search
To explore the topic of the Library War Service in online Connecticut newspapers, go to http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/, click on the “Advanced Search” tab, select “Connecticut,” select the years “1917-1919,” and enter search terms in the boxes called “with the phrase” or “with ALL the words.” To explore how the Library War Service was covered by papers out of the state, select “All” states.
Suggested Search Terms:
Library War Service
Hospital library service
“The Good Influence of Books.” Norwich Bulletin, August 20, 1917, page 4, col. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1917-08-20/ed-1/seq-4
“Want Million to Buy Books for ‘Rookies’” Bridgeport Evening Farmer August 21, 1917, page 9, col. 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022472/1917-08-21/ed-1/seq-9
“Library Association Provides Books for Fighting Forces.” Norwich Bulletin, January 25, 1918, page 8, col. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1918-01-25/ed-1/seq-8
“State Has Sent 100,000 Books to the Armies” The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, May 10, 1918, page 1, col. 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1918-05-10/ed-1/seq-17
“Thirty Books Toward Next Donation” Norwich Bulletin, July 8, 1918, page 2, col. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1918-07-08/ed-1/seq-2
“American Soldiers and Sailors Busy Learning Business of War” The Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, August 18, 1918, page 12, col. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1918-08-08/ed-1/seq-12
“Books are Chief Amusement of Soldiers and Sailors Especially Those from Foreign Countries” Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, September 27, 1918, page 8, col. 3. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1918-09-27/ed-1/seq-8
“Everything Set Up for the United War Work Campaign.” Norwich Bulletin, November 7, 1918, page 6. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1918-11-07/ed-1/seq-6
“An Urgent Call From France” Norwich Bulletin. April 12, 1919, page 10, col. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1919-04-12/ed-1/seq-10
“Am. Library Association to Furnish More Books.” Norwich Bulletin, February 13, 1920, page 2, col. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014086/1920-02-13/ed-1/seq-2
“Library War Funds Provide Reading Service.” Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, December 20, 1922, page 9, col. 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92051227/1922-12-20/ed-1/seq-9
“American Library Association, Library War Service.” Library of Congress. Accessed at: https://www.wdl.org/en/item/4536/
“Hospital Library Service Established” Grand Forks Herald, May 10, 1920, page 6, col. 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85042414/1920-05-10/ed-1/seq-6
Hospital Library Service: A New Department of public library work est. Nov. 1, 1919. Sioux City Public Library: Sioux City, Iowa, 1919.
“Library War Service.” American Library Association, 2007. Accessed June 1, 2015. http://wikis.ala.org/professionaltips/index.php/Library_War_Service
War Library Bulletin. Vol 1-9. The American Library Association through the War Service Committee.
Nancy K. Bristow, Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War (New York: New York University Press, 1996)
Caroline Daniels. “The feminine touch has not been wanting”: women librarians at Camp Zachary Taylor, 1917-1919.” Libraries and the Cultural Record. 43.3 (Summer 2008)
Honeij, James A. History and Roster of the United States Army General Hospital No. 16, New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1919.
Melody Specht Kelly. “Revisiting C.H. Milam’s What Libraries Learned from the War and Rediscovering the Library Faith.” Libraries & Culture 38.4 (Fall 2003): 378.
Tammy Kiter. “Turning the Pages of Patriotism with the American Library Association.” New York Historical Society. Accessed at: http://blog.nyhistory.org/turning-the-pages-of-patriotism-with-the-american-library-association/
Koch, Theodore Wesley. Books in Camp, Trench, and Hospital. New York: Library War Service, 1917.
Koch, Theodore Wesley. War Service of the American Library Association. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1918.
Koch, Theodore Wesley. Books in the War: The Romance of Library War Service. Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1919.
Mary Mahoney. “’Prescribing’ Books in a Connecticut Military Hospital.” Books as Medicine. http://booksasmedicine.com/prescribing-books-in-a-connecticut-military-hospital/
McDaniel, W. B. “Bibliotherapy – some historical and contemporary aspects,” Bulletin of the American Library Association 50.9 (October 1956): 584-589.
Stockbridge, Frank P. “Books, Books, Books, Demanded by Our Fighting Man.” The Sun. November 10, 1918, page 7. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030431/1918-11-10/ed-1/seq-59
Sweet, Louise. “The Hospital Library.” Journal of Outdoor Life 18 (1921): 123-124.
Sweet, Louise. “Amenities of Library Work in a Hospital for the Tuberculous,” The Modern Hospital 19 (December 1922): 527-528.
Sweet, Louise. “Prescribing Books for the Sick,” Library Journal 54 (December 1929): 969-971.
Young, Arthur P. Books for Sammies: The American Library Association and World War I. Beta Phi Mu chapbook, no. 15. Pittsburgh Pa: Beta Phi Mu, 1981.