Saturday, September 21, 2013

When Librarians Go To War: The ALA War Service 1917-18

"[T]o make better men of the soldiers as well as to make better soldiers of the men."1
World War I lasted from 1914 to 1918, with the United States finally entering the war in 1917. In April of 1917, the American Library Association—a small organization at the time with a $24,000 yearly budget2offered to provide professional library services to U.S. military camps and to raise the funds to do so! By the end of the war, the ALA had collected millions of dollars and book donations, built over thirty camp libraries, and employed hundreds of librarians. More importantly, the idea ofand appreciation forfree library services was spread to every corner of the nation, even to communities far from early library strongholds like Boston and New York.

Today's libraries are well-established, but there are worries about public commitment to free library services. One lesson contemporary librarians can take away from the ALA's War Service is that tapping into public interests can enable services beyond what seems possible with the existing budget. Such initiatives can then boost community appreciation for free library services.

A Bold Proposal

Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, first proposed the idea of the ALA providing books to military men in a private meeting with an assistant to the Secretary of War.3 Between this meeting in April 1917 and the ALA's annual conference in June 1917, Putnam strategically promoted the idea and formed a committee.4 With this backing in place, he distributed the committee's report at the conference. The report (unsurprisingly) concluded that what the Association had before it was "an extraordinary opportunity."5 This sentiment was widely accepted and echoed. Soon afterward, Raymond Fosdick, the chairman of the War Department's Committee on Training Camp Activities, extended an official invitation. The American Library Association assumed responsibility for providing service to the nation's thirty-two domestic training camps.6

Bring Your Own Library

Each camp was populated by thirty-thousand to fifty-thousand soldiers, for a total of over 1.3 million potential readers.7 Government grants were not sought. Instead, the War Finance Committee of the ALA made plans to raise the money and collect supplies from private donors! The first step was to raise funds needed to run the main fundraising campaign. $50,000 was temporarily donated mainly from ALA's own resources, Baker & Taylor publishers, and the Rockefeller Foundation.8 These seed funds would be paid back from the main campaign, which had a goal of raising a million dollars. The Carnegie Corporation approved a $320,000 grant in September 1917 ($10,000 per camp). By April 1918, the million dollar overall goal had been reached, with an additional $750,000 beyond that!9

For a second fundraising drive, the ALA joined the YMCA and five other private organizations involved in training camp services for a United War Work Campaign. The ALA didn't sit back content with general advertising for the combined effort; library-themed posters and bookmarks were created and sent out in huge numbers.10 By a quirk of history, the first day of the United War Work Campaign turned out to be Armistice Day: November 11, 1918. The campaign raised $205 million anyway! The ALA's portion was 3.8 million, which allowed library services to continue until the ALA could hand off management to the various military branches in an orderly fashion from 1919 to 1921.11

The ALA ran a book collection drive over the same period as the first money drive. By June 1918, over two million donated books had been collected and sent to domestic training camps.12 Almost 300,000 had been shipped overseas, a riskier affair as several of the ships were sunk on the way by enemy submarines.13 Troops also received about five million magazines,14 not through ALA drives, but through a postal service program. Journals and magazines carried the following notice from the Postmaster General:
"When you finish reading this magazine place a 1-cent stamp on this notice, hand same to any postal employee and it will be placed in the hands of our soldiers or sailors at the front."15
Why bother with fundraising when books and magazines were being donated in such abundance? There was also a need to supply library buildings, pay librarians in key leadership roles, and purchase non-fiction (mostly technical) books not covered by donations.16 The ALA asked publishers to offer steep discounts on multiple copy purchases, and all major publishers agreed!17 After the Armistice, purchasing focus shifted from technical books to vocational literature. Camp librarians put together recommended reading lists on a variety of career areas and placed "Back to the Job" advertisements around the camp to market these services.18 In total, Carnegie and ALA funds were used to build forty camp libraries,19 typically including small living quarters for a librarian, which allowed long operating hours of 7 am to 10 pm every day of the week in most locations.20 The bulk of the fundraising and technical services work was, however, carried out by public librarian volunteers.21

The Subordinated Majority

Sex discrimination was strong at the beginning of the War, but became increasingly challenged as the draft pulled men out of their hoarded leadership positions. The library profession's composition as a whole was about four women to every man,22 but the ALA itself enforced an unwritten rule against women being paid for work in camp libraries. As protests to the ALA leadership and directly to the War Department grew, Herbert Putnam first falsely claimed that the ALA was only following military rules (as anyone could see by the women employed in private YWCA hostess houses). He then promised a greater role for women, but this was a transparent attempt to defuse complaints without actually doing anything. Finally, Putnam acted as if the protestors were disparaging the work done by the women who had been working in camp libraries (often running them in practice) without pay or status. He relented at last, gracelessly implying that he was only swayed by the voices of male librarians.23

By the summer of 1918, women were officially in charge of eight of the thirty-two camp libraries.24 Blanche Galloway of the Pelham Bay Naval Station was the first woman to be paid for directing an ALA camp library. In September of 1918, Ms. Galloway spoke at the New York State Library Association's annual meeting:
"The wonderful opportunities which the library has to help these young men from all stations and walks of life, the one great thing that makes it worth while is the fact that the library influence is a leveling up and never down. Every man who seeks help here is going to be able to do something better than he has done it before. This is the kind of democracy we are all proud to have a part in establishing."25
It's crazy to think the ALA had held back Galloway and other passionate librarians; it's inspiring to know she persevered for the sake of her "young men."


The increasing role of technology in early twentieth-century warfare made greater than ever intellectual demands on fighters. It was now "a war of mechanism and of exact science."26
"At one typical camp a single day's circulation included books on the following: French history, mechanics, topography and strategy in war, self propelled vehicles, hand grenades, field entrenchments, bridges, chemistry, physics, astronomy, hydraulics, electricity, medieval history, calculus, civil engineering, geography, American history, surveying, materials of construction, general history, masonry, concrete. About three-fourths of the books taken out were non-fiction."27
This should make it clear that relying on second-hand, outdated gift books from civilians would not have been adequate to the task of making better soldiers of the men. Camp librariesand especially overseas book distribution—also addressed psychological needs. Major General Glenn of Camp Sherman gave library materials credit for "producing contentment" in men drafted into the new environment of military life.28 Mystery and adventure novels were especially popular. The more elitist librarians liked to tell each other stories of patrons asking for high-brow literature, confident they were making better men of the soldiers.29 As mentioned above, camp librarians took on the role of occupational counselors toward the end.

Beyond reading material itself, libraries provided a quiet place to get away from the usual routine. According to one soldier at Camp Devens:

"Your alcoves are godsends. The barrack's social room in which 75 to 125 are talking and playing cards, where a piano and phonograph are rivaling one another, and where at any moment a basketball may knock your head sideways, is certainly no decent place to read, let alone trying to do any studying."30

Spreading an Idea

Support for the war effort was high, as shown by the generosity of the donors and volunteers who made the ALA's War Service such a fantastic success. Soldiers' need for reading materials would have been a good enough motivation by itself; but even from the beginning, the ALA had an eye on promoting the value of professionally staffed free libraries. In a paper handed out at the Association's 1917 conference, Frank Hill and George Utley said, "if we succeed in this emergency in rendering national service, libraries are going to be a national and community force as never before." Otherwise, libraries would be "looked on as weak, dreary, go-sit-in-the-corner affairs that are not worth public support."31

Public library services were familiar to soldiers from the more progressive, urban areas. This wasn't true for many soldiers from poor or remote regions. Camp librarians often had to explain that borrowing was free.32 The war brought everyone together, then sent them back with raised expectations. The War Service was, in a sense, a public library advocacy campaign in disguise.

Still, it's important to understand that the War Service's most clear-cut accomplishment was its direct effect on domestic military camps. Overseas support was relatively weak. The ALA's post-war "Enlarged Program" campaign was a failed, overconfident attempt to grow the Association's wealth and influence in the new style, but without the unifying effect of patriotic fever.33 Two federal bills which would have brought national support to library services fell flat in 1919, with more of the same in the 1920s.34 The ALA had caught a wave during the war and found that it couldn't do the same in peacetime. It would take more time and steady political alliances to bring about substantial nation-wide support for public libraries.35 The War Service years were an exciting time in U.S. library history that showed what can be accomplished by paying attention to current events and jumping at new opportunities. It was significant partbut only a partof a much longer process of transforming public library service from a luxury found in liberal cities to an assumed part of American life.

  1. Theodore W. Koch. War Service of the American Library Association (Washington, D.C: A.L.A. War Service, 1918), viii. 
  2. Arthur P. Young. Books For Sammies: The American Library Association And World War I (Place of  publication: Publisher, Year of publication), 10.
  3. Young, Books for Sammies, 10.
  4. ibid., 11.
  5. ibid., 12. 
  6. ibid., 13.
  7. ibid., 38.
  8. ibid., 20.
  9. ibid., 21.
  10. ibid., 23.
  11. ibid., 87.
  12. Koch, War Service, 18.
  13. Young, Books for Sammies, 63.
  14. Koch, War Service, 18.
  15. Committee on Public Information, "Regulation for Forwarding Magazines To Men At Front," The Official Bulletin (Washington, DC), July 18, 1917. 
  16. Young, Books for Sammies, 20.
  17. ibid., 27.
  18. ibid., 55-56.
  19. ibid., 25.
  20. ibid., 46.
  21. ibid., 94.
  22. ibid., 126.
  23. ibid., 34-35.
  24. ibid.
  25. N. Louise Ruckteshler. "Library Week at Lake Placid Club, September 23-28, 1918." New York Libraries.6, no. 5. (Nov. 1918): 134.
  26. Koch, War Service, vi.
  27. ibid.
  28. ibid., 16.
  29. ibid., 26.
  30. ibid., 27.
  31. Young, Books for Sammies, 19.
  32. Koch, War Service, 22.
  33. Young, Books for Sammies, 90.
  34. ibid., 97.
  35. ibid., 98.

Committee on Public Information, "Regulation for Forwarding Magazines To Men At Front," The Official Bulletin (Washington, DC), July 18, 1917.

Koch, Theodore W. War Service of the American Library Association. Washington, DC: A.L.A. War Service, 1918.

Ruckteshler, N. Louise. "Library Week at Lake Placid Club, September 23-28, 1918." New York Libraries.6, no. 5. (Nov. 1918).

Young, Arthur P. Books For Sammies: The American Library Association And World War I. Pittsburgh, PA: Beta Phi Mu, 1981.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Christian to Agnostic: A Short Explanation

[I'm making this the latest post because a family member asked over the weekend. This was originally posted here on June 11, 2012 and written around 2008.]

    During my last year at Iowa State University, I stopped believing Christianity — or anything like it — is actually true. This came at the end of several years of study which began with the opposite goal: learning how to show others that Christianity is true. Talk about backfiring! Instead of finding more and stronger justifications for Christian belief, I lost even my starting justifications. All remaining evidence was compatible with Christianity being an entirely manmade religion, so I concluded that's probably all it is. I drew the same conclusion about other religions. If there is a God at all, it's not one concerned with setting us straight on religious matters.

    I was raised in the Churches of Christ sect. Early on, I was under the impression that everyone in the world believed the same things I was taught in Sunday School. Why wouldn't I? Everything from Biblical history to theology was presented to me as a matter of uncontroversial fact. If someone didn't worship God, that was only an obedience problem as it is with kids who don't mind their parents. I accepted God's offer of salvation with unquestioning faith. I believed God had forgiven my sins and would raise me to live in Heaven with other Christians forever. Prayer, praise, and scripture reading were not a burden but a joy.

    That joy started to sour when I was sent to an interdenominational Christian high school. You see, the Churches of Christ teach baptism as an essential step in accepting salvation; they even refer to baptism as "obeying the Gospel." By contrast, all the teachers and most of the students at my new school believed that only faith was necessary to be saved. This meant most of the Christians at school had not obeyed the Gospel and were still on their way to never-ending torment in Hell. Yet these were not apathetic or rebellious people; many were clearly striving to understand and submit to God's will. How could people serving God to the best of their knowledge deserve eternal torment? And the more I thought about Hell, the more I began to question its justice. I realized that no human — no matter how monstrous — could cause as much suffering as an eternity of hellfire. For a long time, I didn't doubt the truth of any of this, but I did start to see the next world as a far greater horror than even the worst temporary evil in this world.

    Just as high school opened my eyes to divisions among Christians, college life put me in direct contact with a wider array of religious beliefs. I went from only hearing debates about the meaning of Bible verses to hearing people claim the Bible wasn't inspired by God at all. So I did what I always do when challenged: study up! I already knew the book of Daniel contained detailed prophetic descriptions of Alexander the Great and the kings who followed him, so I started looking into arguments from supernatural prophecy. I was confident I could show that the Bible was more than a collection of human writings. But it didn't take long for my confidence to turn into disappointment.

    Daniel was supposedly written in the sixth century BC while the Jews were exiled in Babylon. Among other things, it describes Alexander's fourth century BC eastward conquest and the fate of the empire after his death. Even without names, the descriptions match up with secular history too well to be a lucky guess. Or at least, they match until the 160s BC when the prophecies become much more elaborate…then go wrong. See where I'm going with this? Many Biblical scholars believe Daniel was written during the 160s BC as if it contained ancient prophecies leading up to the ongoing Maccabean Revolt. The author simply wrote history and current events disguised as prophecy, then got the future parts wrong. This is a mainstream view in the Catholic Church, probably because their Bibles still contain histories of the revolt, which happened during the mysterious "intertestamental" period as far as Protestants are concerned. I was disappointed in my own Bible teachers for failing to know or failing to tell me about any of this.

    I needed to find prophecy immune to date-based skepticism, so I turned to messianic prophecy. Figured I'd start with Matthew and look up Old Testament references as I got to them. Big mistake. It turns out Matthew had little regard for the context of his quotes. The original passages concerning "Immanuel," "out of Egypt," and "Rachel weeping for her children" were written about specific situations far removed from the Gospel plot. I was amazed to find that the first few pages of Matthew mistreat the Jewish scriptures so badly no one could fault a curious Jew for picking up a New Testament and setting it right back down a minute later. Are the other messianic prophecies merely less obvious impositions of new meaning on old scriptures? My studies were inconclusive. With Christian preconceptions, it's easy to see Jesus in the Old Testament. But without those assumptions, all "messianic prophecies" can be reasonably understood as merely human Jewish hopes. For example, the servant described in Isaiah 53 can be understood as religiously faithful Jews who suffered through the Babylonian exile along with the unfaithful Jews who brought about the judgement. As a reward and justification for their suffering, God would end the exile and set Israel above all other nations forever. The exile ended, but the rest proved too optimistic. Later Jews reinterpreted the passage as a future event, then Christians used it to build a theology to justify the suffering of Jesus on the cross. This naturalistic interpretation is strongly in line with the overall historical context of Isaiah 40-55. I eventually had to give up on using prophecy to argue for a supernatural Bible.

    What would it take to show the truth of Christian belief over alternatives? Critical evidence, i.e. evidence which is compatible with Christian belief but not compatible with alternative beliefs. Take the book of Daniel. It fails to be critical evidence because it can be explained as history rather than amazing prophecy. However, Daniel would be critical evidence if compelling, secular evidence were found that Daniel's prophecies actually were written in the sixth (not the second) century BC. Skeptics who acknowledge the uncanny accuracy of Daniel between those centuries would be unable to maintain their belief that Daniel was written by human means.

    I continued looking for any critical evidence which favored Christianity over the alternatives. Instead, I kept finding critical evidence against the fundamentalist Christianity I was taught at both church and school. A quick rundown:

    I had believed first-century apostles finalized the Bible as I knew it and that any later ideas or writings were either superfluous or deviations from true Christianity.
  …but then I learned that the New Testament's table of contents was settled much later by distinctively Catholic Christians who also affirmed a larger Old Testament. I couldn't trust my sixty-six book Bible had only inspired books and all the inspired books without believing God whimsically guided fourth century Catholics to put the New Testament together right and AD-era Jews to put the Old Testament together right.

    I had believed the Gospels were independent witnesses to the life of Jesus, by the traditional authors.
  …but then I learned that the first three Gospels are textually dependent on each other like three homework essays showing signs of collaboration; scholars call this the "synoptic problem." Not such a big deal for Luke since the author admits to putting together earlier accounts, but I found it impossible to believe Matthew was written by an apostle of Jesus who only bothered mangling other accounts instead of writing his own.

    I had believed all scriptures were preserved word-for-word in their original languages.
  …but then I learned that the New Testament authors usually quoted an Old Testament with many subtle differences from the Old Testament I knew. For example, Matthew 21 depicts children praising Jesus during the triumphal entry. Jesus defends their actions to critics by quoting Psalm 8 as, "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself." Yet Psalm 8 reads, "From the mouths of infants and nursing babes You have established strength." I realized either Jesus had a corrupted Old Testament or I did.

    I had believed the Bible accurately reports speech, though not necessarily everything a person said.
  …but then I learned that the Bible inaccurately reports speech even when accuracy would have been just as easy. For example, Mark 11:1-3 reports Jesus asking for a single donkey while Matthew 21:1-3 reports him asking for plural donkeys. This isn't an omission or a matter of translation into English; the words in Jesus' mouth are just different. If it's ok to mess with the speech of God incarnate, what else might have been adjusted?

    I had believed Biblical history was reliable and any secular history that disagreed was simply mistaken.
  …but then I learned that the Bible starts with fictional creation and flood stories. This might have been fine if they were treated as myths-with-a-message (like the Narnia novels or the Parable of the Vineyard Workers), but Eden and the flood are part of the main historical narrative. Luke even traces Jesus' genealogy back through David to Noah and Adam. I had to start worrying that other parts of the Bible might also be fiction presented as fact.

    As I was discovering problems with my fundamentalist view of the Bible, I heard about "progressive" Christians who get around all of the above by treating the Bible as a fallible human work: a book about God but not from God. This lets progressives write off gender roles as a cultural vestige and distance God from troublesome Old Testament morals such as enslaving foreigners (Lev 25:44-46), killing children as part of genocide (1 Sam 15:3), executing apostates (Deut 13:6-11), and taking virgins as sexual spoils of war (Deut 21:10-13, Num 31:17-18). Progressive Christians usually also deny Hell doctrine on the basis of incompatibility with a morally praiseworthy God. They've effectively reshaped Christianity to fit modern knowledge and moral sense. After all, there are still many wise, good, and possible things in the Bible after cutting out the foolish, evil, and false. I tried to adopt a progressive Christian view, but it was short-lived. I didn't see how a God interested in forming loving relationships with humanity or even in being worshipped as a good God would be so hands-off in allowing his character to be slandered by his own followers.

    I began to see Christianity as "just another human religion." That's the phrase that got stuck in my head and wouldn't go away. I identify with stories of other deconverts who said that once they were capable of seeing Christian faith as a product of mere human psychology and culture, they suddenly had great trouble taking off those new "glasses." (Or putting the Christian glasses back on, if you prefer.) Take prayer, for example. The doctrine that all prayers are answered "yes," "no," or "not yet" is hard to take seriously after seeing it as precisely the doctrine people would invent if no prayer were ever heard by a God. A false Christianity would also neatly explain why the Holy Spirit does not counteract the ever increasing schisms among Christians. Or why there seems to be needless suffering in the world even though an all-good, all-powerful God would ensure all suffering is for the best. And finally, why the best predictors of Christian faith are where and to whom a person is born.

    Though my beliefs had changed, I didn't want to be an unbeliever so I kept looking for reasons to think some form of Christianity is true. What if I had simply missed something? So I deliberately put my new skepticism at risk by continuing to engage with apologetics. I did come to see problems with many popular skeptical arguments and I also came to appreciate some of the more refined defenses of Christianity, especially those of Alston and Plantinga. But in the end these were only defenses of the possibility of Christian Theism, not critical reasons to believe any of it is true. Then I realized something which gave me confidence I wasn't missing some hard-to-find good reason for belief: if there is an all-powerful God who "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," it would be in God's own interest and power to make religious truth unmistakably clear so that "all men" are able — if willing — to respond to his offer of salvation. For this reason, I take the lack of clear critical evidence for Christian belief as strong positive evidence against Christian belief.

    Where does this leave me? Not too different in day-to-day terms. I found it doesn't take belief in God and an afterlife to believe in other people and this life. If it matters how I'm treated, I know it matters how I treat others. I can't rely on thinking God will right every injustice, but then I hadn't believed unending paradise and torment were just fates since high school. I now believe it's up to us to correct injustice and suffering in the world. It's also up to us to preserve our planet for those to come, with no scheduled remake of a new heavens and new earth. And if anything, I have an increased sense of humility from realizing the universe wasn't made just for us. No single religious image ever brought out the awe I feel looking at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and trying to grasp the sheer scale of what it reveals in one tiny, seemingly dark patch of the night sky. Is there a God hidden beyond it all? Maybe, maybe not. Though I remain open to the possibility of a God who hasn't bothered to reveal its identity and desires to humanity, I lean toward a fully natural order because God-explanations have been steadily retreating in the face of natural explanations. I doubt we'll ever run out of unanswered questions, so there will always be room to project religious answers onto the unknown, but I'm comfortable waiting until there's good reason to believe those answers are correct.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quote of the Day: Malcolm X on Assertiveness

"I learned early on that crying out in protest could accomplish things. My older brothers and sisters had started to school when, sometimes, they would come in and ask for a buttered biscuit or something and my mother, impatiently, would tell them no. But I would cry out and make a fuss until I got what I wanted. I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn't be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being so nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise."

from The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books (1999). p. 8.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Moral Training Wheels

"Finally, on the theistic hypothesis God holds all persons morally accountable for their actions. Evil and wrong will be punished; righteousness will be vindicated. Good ultimately triumphs over evil, and we shall finally see that we do live in a moral universe after all. Despite the inequities of this life, in the end the scales of God’s justice will be balanced. Thus, the moral choices we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance. We can with consistency make moral choices which run contrary to our self-interest and even undertake acts of extreme self-sacrifice, knowing that such decisions are not empty and ultimately meaningless gestures."

— William Lane Craig, "Can We Be Good Without God?"
A friend of mine recently scolded her cat for starting to play with an electrical cord. It wouldn't do any good to lecture the cat about how dangerous electricity can be, so an imposed association between electrical cords and punishment are needed to keep her cat safe when no one is watching. The same applies to toddlers. Adult humans avoid chewing on electrical cords because they don't want to be shocked. No stand-in motivation needed!

When it comes to moral situations, some philosophers try to show that acting morally is in our own best interest, either all the time or often enough that we tend to come out ahead in life if we cultivate moral habits. Other philosophers (and many preachers) claim that acting morally is in our own best interest because we will be punished or rewarded in an afterlife. The quote at the top of this post is such an example: William Lane Craig believes that self-sacrifice is "empty" if it doesn't eventually turn into huge rewards for the person doing the sacrificing.

In other words, there's a tendency to reduce morality to self-interest. I believe this is a mistake. While it's true that moral action often works in our own favor, the essence of morality is other-interest.

But there's a problem: some people don't have much in the way of other-interest. How do we convince them to act in the interests of others anyway? Impose an association between harming others and punishment, or an association between helping others and reward. It's another kind of stand-in motivation.

Punishment and reward are training wheels for human beings who can grow in understanding (to better achieve what they want and avoid what they don't) and who can grow in empathy (to better care about what others want). Training wheels might keep your bike from falling over, but you aren't truly riding until you no longer need them. When I read things like the quote at the top of this post, I see a desire for perfect training wheels: the appearance of moral justice without any need to act out of the interest of others.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Monthly Picks

I Know What It Is When I Read It: Defining the Romance Genre by Jennifer Cruise (March 2000, Romance Writer's Report, supposedly). Even if you don't care a thing for romance novels, the process of coming up with a working definition that matches important intuitions is applicable to things like metaethics. If you don't care about romance novels or metaethics, why are you reading this blog?

Maybe because you like Regina Spektor?