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History of the Missouri State Library

Library War Service

After Congress declared war in April 1917, the War Department provided a Commission on Training Camp Activities, with Raymond B. Fosdick as chairman. This Commission was to provide recreation and moral and spiritual stimulus for servicemen during their leisure time. Fosdick invited the American Library Association (ALA), as well as several welfare organizations such as the Y.M.C.A. and Knights of Columbus, to assist in providing various camp activities.

A letter from Fosdick to Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, informed Putnam that the Commission on Camp Activities had voted unanimously for the ALA to assume the responsibilities for providing adequate library facilities in the 32 cantonments and National Guard training camps which were expected to open on or about the first of September. The Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, placed his stamp of approval on the plans and the Library War Service had official standing.

Missouri in the Library War Service

The purpose of the Library War Service was to furnish reading material for U.S. Army and U.S. Navy servicemen, wherever they might be stationed--in training camps, on border patrol, on guard duty, on transports and battleships, in U.S. arsenals, in powder plants, and overseas. Its organization and administration was national in conception, but participation by state agencies was crucial in driving book and money campaigns. For Missouri, Elizabeth B. Wales, Secretary of the Missouri Library Commission, was appointed State Agent under the Library War Commission. Purd B. Wright, Librarian of the Kansas City Public Library and former President of the Missouri Library Commission, was appointed Director for the Kansas City area. And Arthur E. Bostwick, Librarian of the St. Louis Public Library and another former President of the Missouri Library Commission, was appointed Director for the St. Louis area.

Collection of Books

Before the Library War Service could begin to function in Missouri or elsewhere, books and magazines had to be secured. A campaign for books commenced in August 1917, before the large training camps were officially opened. A second campaign occurred in March 1918. The next and last campaign was launched in 1919 and focused on vocations, as vocational books were the most in demand by soldiers but the least donated. The service purchased quantities of the desired books from the funds secured in the United War Fund campaign.

Missouri Library Commission’s Extension Work

Along with helping to gather, organize, and distribute funds and materials for locations stateside and overseas, the Library Commission also entrenched itself on the home front in campaigns to keep the citizens apprised on the food situation. In August 1917, the Library Commission took up active cooperation with the Food Administration in an endeavor to circulate information on food conservation to the public via letters and pamphlets on a weekly basis.

The Commission also promoted activities for libraries to do in their help with the war effort through the circulation of their newsletter, The Library Messenger.

Included in the newsletter during this time were:

  • Outlines for how to organize a committee to support the War Hospital Library Service, which recycled magazines into light booklets and picture charts to be distributed to recovering soldiers and sailors
  • Lists of towns that contributed books or money to soldiers libraries
  • Solicitations for French language and vocational books
  • How to create posters and exhibits on food conservation

Missouri Library Commission and Vocational Books

When the soldiers returned home they still desired vocational books as they looked to gain “better jobs.” The Library Commission focused considerable effort on supplementing the travelling libraries with these books as well as loaning them to those posts of the American Legion which were in towns where there was no library service.

*Missouri’s contribution to the Library War Service at home and overseas was not limited to the efforts by the Missouri Library Commission, nor were the librarians mentioned the only ones who contributed.

Images from "Missouri in the Library War Service"