The American Studies Consortium invites you to workshop a dissertation chapter by:
“A Reading Army as No Army Ever Was Before”: The American Library Association’s Campaign for Books and Reading in World War I
Friday, March 11th at 1pm, Angell 3241
Lunch from Jerusalem Garden will be provided.
Please RSVP to request a copy of the pre-circulated draft.
Over the course of the United States’ involvement in World War I, the Library War Service of the American Library Association (ALA) collected and distributed over ten million books and magazines to U.S. soldiers and sailors at home and overseas. To organize the library profession, the military brass, and the general public behind these efforts, the ALA ran what is arguably the first ever mass-mediated, institutionally-backed publicity campaign for books and reading. This chapter examines the materials that attempted to convince the nation to support its new “reading army”: special bulletins and internal memoranda meant to mobilize local libraries, press releases and human interest stories aimed to win over the general public, and posters and pamphlets designed to lure soldiers into special ALA-operated camp libraries. In these varied textual and material spaces, the ALA circulated images of the “soldier-reader,” an idiosyncratic figure, notably distinct from other wartime depictions of U.S. troops, whose reading serves as an index of emerging ideals of American masculinity, modernity, and, surprisingly, tolerance. By recovering this forgotten campaign, I show how the ALA not only publicized its services to a specific set of readers, but also publicized a broader vision of how reading—and being a nation of readers—might help mediate the physical, psychological, and rhetorical ruptures of modern war.
Kathryne Bevilacqua is a graduate student in the department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan.