Over There: Portable Libraries of World War One

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American soldiers enjoy a portable library brought by truck to Kelly Field, just outside San Antonio.

In 1916 An American traveler reported that when his train pulled up to stop for
water on the Mexican border, American soldiers approached the passengers and
begged for reading material. Books, magazines, anything.  “The soldiers had little to do and absolutely nothing to read.” Understanding the ability of books to maintain sanity,
the American Library Association formed a War Service Committee shortly after
the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917.  Working with other non-profit organizations,
including the YMCA and The American Red Cross, the ALA managed to get 6 million
books for the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force. These were procured through a combination of book drives and using donated funds. When feasible, the books were put in camp libraries, often erected by the Y.M.C.A. Otherwise, the books were brought to soldiers by truck.

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American soldiers relax in a Y.M.C.A. camp library.

“Library Program for U.S. Army: 1917-18 and 1940-41.” Larson, Cedric. Wilson Library Bulletin, Jan. 1941, Vol. 15 #5. Pgs 362-366.

“’We Want Books’” by Marie D. Loizeaux. Wilson Library
Bulletin, Vol. 16, #5.

Images from the Library of Congress Digital Collection.

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