The ALA Executive Board appointed the Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans (later the War Service Committee). ALA 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.

This Committee accepted an invitation from the War Department's Commission on Training Camp Activities to provide library service to the U.S. soldiers and sailors in America, France, and other locations.

The Association was one of seven welfare groups affiliated with the Commission. ALA's wartime programs, known as the Library War Service, was directed by Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, and later by Carl H. Milam. Between 1917 and 1920, ALA, whose membership was just over 3,300 in 1917, accomplished the following:

  • 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.

There were nearly 1,200 library workers served in libraries sponsored by the Association. (For a commentary on the work of cataloging all these books, see "When We Were Hawks," by Will Manley in the March 2007 American Libraries.)

The work of the Library War Service lives on in numerous ways:

  • the creation of permanent library departments in the army, navy, and Veteran's Bureau;
  • founding of the American Merchant Marine Library Association American, created in 1921 to "establish and promote a professional Library Service for the benefit of the personnel of the American Merchant Marine, United States Coast Guard ships, stations, lightships and lighthouses";
  • establishment of the American Library in Paris, initially established in 1918, but continued at the end of the war, in 1920,officially, with community support and 30,000 books left from the Library War Service as a permanent memorial of the work done in France and as an example of American library methodology; and
  • stimulation of the Association's activities in the fields of international relations and adult education.

For an image of one of the bookplates, see the brief article in Libraries & Culture.

For images of the postcards documenting the work, see the links from The American Library Association & World War I.

For images of WWI soldier utilizing the libraries from Army.Mil

"What Can I Do to Help?: A Program for Immediate Library War Service," from War Library Bulletin, v.1:no.1, Aug. 1917 (blog post)

The Exile Bibliophile blog also has some information.

Search the holdings of the ALA Archives for ALA's War Services Committee materials.

See the Collection Guide for the Preliminary Inventory to the American Library Association War Service Records, 1917-1923 held at the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University.

"Female Librarians and ALA's Library War Service in WWI" from the Library History Buff Blog

Other Readings

Koch, Theodore Wesley. War Service of the American Library Association. Washington, D.C.: A.L.A. War Service, Library of Congress, 1918. The Library of Congress copy is freely available online as an Adobe Reader PDF document via the Google Books Search Project, at:

Lugo, Sergio. Your Uniform Is Your Pass: Soldier and Sailor Welfare Relief and the American Doughboy in World War I: the Jewish Welfare Board for Soldier's and Sailor's Relief. Denver, CO: Sergio Lugo, 2006.

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.