Bringing Books to World War I Soldiers: The Library War Service

They signal “Send books,” 1917

What would you include in a care package to a family member in the military? Would you include food? Treats? Extra clothing? Games? Would you consider sending books? During World War I, books became an important part of the support system for those fighting overseas.

As the United States mobilized to fight during World War I, the military leadership discovered that many members of the military had limited reading skills. Some new soldiers had never left the small towns where they had grown up and had not been exposed to a variety of reading material. Military leaders wanted to encourage literacy, discourage negative behavior, and support the soldiers during difficult times at the front lines.

To provide reading materials for soldiers, the federal government approached the American Library Association (ALA) for assistance. The ALA created the Library War Service to respond to the request to provide books for soldiers. The Library War Service was headed by then-Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam and worked from 1917-1920 to support the military. In that short time, the Library War Service distributed between seven and ten million books and magazines through 36 libraries established in camps in the United States and Europe.

The Library War Service solicited book donations and asked that books be brought to public libraries. Advertisements and articles in the military newspaper “Stars and Stripes” provided information about the library program and encouraged soldiers to write in and indicate the kinds of books they wanted.

Ogden Standard, October 26, 1918

Books helped provide a connection to home and helped prevent boredom. While many of the books donated were fiction, others were textbooks intended to help soldiers learn specific skills needed during war time. The work of the Library War Service eventually helped support educational programs to help those stationed in France.

The work of the Library War Service during World War I served as a foundation for future book-related projects, especially during World War II, when the government worked with libraries and the publishing industry to create the Armed Services Editions.

Learn more about the Books for Soldiers program in online version of the Library’s exhibit on the history of World War I. Explore the posters created to solicit books and other support for the military in our website documenting the Library’s collections relating to World War I.

Students can consider whether or not they believe this kind of donation program would work today. What issues would make it easier or more difficult to be successful? Encourage students to identify the kinds of things they might want to read if they were away from their families during wartime.

World War I Recruiting Songs: Building the Military with Music

Music is one way to get a message out or to encourage support for a cause, especially during wartime. In the first years of World War I, when the United States was neutral, songs supported the country staying out of the war. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917, songs encouraged or discouraged citizens to enlist and join the battle. Others encouraged those on the home front to support those who were on the battlefield.

Exploring Chronicling America for Poetry in Newspapers Before 1922

April is national poetry month, and though we don’t see much poetry in today’s newspapers, in the past it was a common feature. In fact, many poets garnered fame and sometimes some funds from having their poems published in newspapers. The Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers database offers a trove of poetry treasures waiting to be discovered.

Baseball, Music, and Suffrage? Exploring the Music of the “National Pastime”

Did you know that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” originally had extra stanzas beyond the ones we all know? When it was composed in 1908 by Albert Von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth, it documented the story of Katie Casey, a baseball fan who wanted to go with her beau to the baseball game. Though there were certainly women who were knowledgeable about their favorite teams, it was expected that women would not want to go to the games and would prefer to be safe at home.

Primary Sources for the Primary Grades: There’s More to Ireland than Shamrocks!

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, some young students might immerse themselves in the eye-catching images often associated with the holiday in the U.S.: shamrocks, green clothing, and the occasional pot of gold. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce students to a corner of the actual country of Ireland through primary sources.