The United States Department of Defense currently maintains over 60 libraries on military bases around the world. Base libraries are now a familiar sight to American soldiers, but it was not always so. The first base libraries were established in 1917 by the American Library Association’s War Service. Developed by the Librarian of Congress, the War Service sought to “brighten the dull hours of American soldiers and sailors” with the latest books and periodicals. This private initiative later gained government support when General Pershing allotted the ALA 50 tons of cargo space per month for books on military transports to Europe.
With over 1 million books donated to the ALA during World War I, transporting books from donation centers to soldiers’ hands was a major concern. The ALA designed their own book carrying cases for Ford trucks and hospital carts, the blueprints of which can be found in the American Library Association War Service Records, along with photographs of soldiers reading in base camps and on the front in France.