During World War I, librarians operated camp and hospital libraries,and in both world wars, librarians promoted books drives and encouraged donations.
Librarians were especially active during World War I. The American Library Association reports that between 1917 and 1920, its Library War Service established three dozen camp libraries with the support of the Carnegie Corporation and raised $5 million in public contributions. Special uniforms were created for librarians in World War I. The American Library in Paris — established in 1920 by the American Library Association and American expatriates, and seeded with books from the Library War Service — continues to this day.
ALA and other organizations collected more than 10 million volumes during the first World War. Moreover, during the Second World War more than 17 million books were gathered through the Victory Book Campaign.
Librarians volunteered sort and weed out books in poor condition or not suitable for young fighting men before the books were shipped. Books that did make it into the hands of the troops, boosted morale, provided connections to people back home and offered technical guidance. The books from home were therapeutic for those convalescing in hospitals, easing their physical and emotional pain. And certain books helped to alleviate homesickness, chase away boredom and provide training to those who wanted to land jobs when they returned home.
In the Second World War, American libraries became centers for public information and technical education. Several Army bases and USO clubs featured libraries and public libraries also served as magnets for military members.
Servicemen used the library often to polish up on mathematics and economics. The Chicago Public Library created a special Servicemen’s Center — run by volunteers — with 5,000 books. And other libraries provided music and local tourist information to visiting troops.
Franklin Roosevelt, poster notes: “No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know, books are weapons.”
And librarians are the weapons experts.
Veterans Administration Hospital
Delaney was approached to head the library at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama. The hospital was home to physically disabled African American war veterans and veterans with mental or emotional issues. Delaney initially took a six-month leave of absence from the New York Public Library; however, she ended up staying in Tuskegee for the remainder of her career. When she arrived at the Veterans Administration Hospital in January 1924, there were just 200 books and a table in the library.
One of the first things Delaney did in Tuskegee was make the library more welcoming. She moved it into a larger room and added plants, wall hangings, flowers and other inviting elements. She wanted to have a positive impact on the patients in the hospital. She also began acquiring books for both the patients and the medical staff.
Within one year of Delaney’s arrival in Tuskegee, the library had 4,000 volumes available for patients and 85 volumes available in the medical library. Library circulation had risen to 1,000 books per month. By 1954, there were over 13,000 volumes in the patient library and over 3,000 volumes in the medical library. In addition to the chief librarian, there were six library assistants to help handle the demand for library resources. Delaney died in 1958 after working 34 years at the hospital.