Before the war
After the war
An exhibit by the
Oregon State Archives
the Home Front
"Libraries for our soldiers and sailors"
The American Library Association mobilized during the war to
help create, stock, and staff war service libraries.
Defense Council Records, Publications and Ephemera,
Box 8, Folder
"Keener, better soldiers"
Drives for both books and the money to buy them began just
after the American entry into World War I. The government recognized
boost to morale that books could provide and asked the American Library
Association for help. Once again a national and state structure followed,
headed by the national War Library Council.
Among the aims was the initial goal
of raising one million dollars to provide libraries and books for
cantonments, training camps, posts, forts, naval stations, ships and
overseas facilities. The money would buy about 350,000 books that could
be rushed to various camps to make the men "more efficient, keener,
better soldiers." The reverse side of the argument was that the
establishment of the libraries "will reduce drinking, gambling,
and kindred vices to a minimum...."
Portland in the forefront
The Portland Public Library
figured prominently in the effort as Northwest headquarters for distribution.
with small collections sent to men serving as guards at bridges,
tunnels, and docks throughout the state. The library built wooden
cases with shelves that served double duty as shipping crates and,
once in the camp, served as book cases. Each case held about 60 books.
By July the library had sent off 1,000 books to the Vancouver Barracks
and another site. Over time, many of the books distributed by the
library would make their way to the thousands of men toiling in
the forests and
of the Northwest as part of the Army's Spruce Production Division.
Canvassing for dollars
The work picked up steam
in September as the first big War Library Fund drive kicked off.
took part in the national
and set about collecting subscriptions toward the one million dollar national
goal. Branch librarians were responsible for their territory within
the city and approached the challenge in different ways. Some canvassed
door to door while others gathered subscriptions at motion picture
shows and similar entertainment venues. One had a "'jitney'"
dance in a school house.
The range of attitudes reported by canvassers varied widely and
many people needed to be convinced of the importance of providing
books for those in service:
"More than one worker met the old
veteran of the Civil War who said that 'such things were
not provided for him when he was a soldier, why did these
boys need them,' or the person who knew that 'the boys
would be so excited that they would not want books and,
if they did, would have no time to read them,' or, stranger
still, the old army officer who dreaded the 'softening'
effect of books and such pleasures upon boys who were
to be fitted for the stern business of war."
As with the other forms of canvassing, workers for the library fund
got their "marching orders" with instructions such as:
"Avoid pledges. Get payment by cash
or check." and "Keep after prospect till you 'land'
Of quotas and competition
Playing the quota game
figured into the library drives from the national offices on down
The national headquarters
of the War Library Campaign originally set the Oregon quota at
$40,000. State leaders reacted that "this amount was of course
far too high," and negotiated a reduction to $8,000. The state
headquarters then set
for each county and
and, to keep
captains and workers, upped the ante: "Endeavor, if possible
to double your quota." In spite of the challenges, the campaign
be a rousing success. Oregon workers did, indeed, double their
quota by bringing in over $19,000. And, by one account, the national
goal was exceeded by $700,000.
83 year old woman stands next to stacks of books to be donated
to the book drive. Books about war were particularly
popular with the men
in the service. (OSA, Oregon Defense Council
Records, World War I Photographs, Box 2)
Of course, while patriotism and "doing your bit" for the
cause were foremost in the minds of volunteers, competition also
the library book drives. In fact, competition played a role in just
about every form
service from the Red Cross sewing work rooms to the liberty loan
campaigns. It thrived between states, between counties, between
neighboring towns, and between the two women sewing next to each
other. This "healthy" competition found eager participants
in schools where, Portland for example, saw "Lincoln high school
leading with a total of 5,566 [donated] books, and Jefferson second
with a total of
3,651 books." And, in the library fund drive, the small community
of Antelope in Wasco County "saw
it as a matter of local pride" that it gave a larger proportion
per capita than "any other town in the United States."
"Have you a book to donate?"
As in the Portland schools,
were made throughout Oregon for donated books and magazines. Those
fit the war library circulation
Unwanted materials were sold to second hand dealers or as scrap
the proceeds then used to buy more books. According to one appeal
of adventure, detective stories and other fiction books.
books focused on engineering, the trades, business, military subjects,
foreign languages, travel, history, and biography. However, some
books were not appreciated:
"Do not send girls' stories, the boys
will not read them; do not send books in fine print, we must
save our soldiers' eyes...."
Generally, the potential donor was admonished to "not send the books
that you would like to get rid of, but those that you would like
to keep." As the end of the war drew near, the requests from the military
camps for books changed: "Already the boys are coming to the various
Y.M.C.A. centers and asking for books on farming, and other things
which will help to reestablish them in the world to which they are
(Oregon State Defense Council
Records, State Historian's Correspondence, Box 1, Folder 4)