Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

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Books for Soldiers and Sailors in World War I

Posted by Larry Nix
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on Wednesday, April 01, 2009 in Archives


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On exhibit at the Middleton Public Library for the month of April is an exhibit entitled "Books for Soldiers and Sailors in World War I".  It's about the Library War Service of the American Library Association (ALA) in World War I. Given our current economic crisis and the impact on libraries, it is interesting to see how libraries coped in another time of great national crisis. The United States stayed neutral for much of World War I. During that period of neutrality, one of the largest impacts on public libraries in Wisconsin was the difficulty of obtaining books in German because of the British blockade of Germany. In his book "An Active Instrument For Propaganda" - The American Public Library During World War I (Greenwood Press, 1989), Wayne Wiegand quotes a letter from Matthew Dudgeon of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission to the President of ALA: "We are starved for German books in Wisconsin.  Do you know anywhere that we could buy,borrow, beg, or steal any new, secondhand,bound or unbound?" When the United States did enter the war in 1917, ALA took on a leadership role in providing books to the soldiers and sailors in our armed forces. Dudgeon took a leave of absence to serve as librarian of the ALA camp library at Camp Perry in Great Lakes, Illinois and later as Manager of Camp Libraries for the ALA Library War Service. Libraries in Wisconsin actively participated in supporting the ALA Library War Service and the war effort in general. In an abrupt turn around, instead of seeking books in German, the Free Library Commission removed all German language books from its traveling libraries.


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