Wartime Book Campaigns

View item information

Images of the American Library Association's WWI Library War Service. Courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Bancroft Library via California Digital Library.

As World War I mobilized Americans in every sector to contribute to the war effort, the American Library Association and library branches nationwide began campaigns to help the country's armed services. Only a few weeks into the war, the ALA began the "A book for every man" campaign, aimed at getting books into the hands of American soldiers. This campaign became part of the ALA's Library War Services committee, established in 1917 and led by the Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam.

Over the course of WWI, the ALA collected millions of dollars in donations, and ten million books and periodicals. Working alongside the Carnegie Corporation, they were able to set up thirty-six camp libraries, and get books to soldiers both abroad and at home. For the ALA, this was an opportunity to extend their service to Americans in a time of great need. As the War Services committee said in 1917: "If we succeed in this emergency in rendering national service, libraries are going to be a national and community force as never before."

American libraries were called into service once again, twenty-five years later, during World War II's Victory Book Campaign. During the campaign, the ALA (working with the Red Cross and USO) assembled seventeen million books and periodicals to send to American troops, with thousands of volunteers across the country sorting and shipping donations. The millions of donations were used to supply libraries in US military units, as well as USO clubs and libraries in war-torn Europe. The campaign was held at a time of considerable stress for libraries on the home front that were facing wartime funding and resource shortages.