Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Postmaster Burleson's Magazines and the ALA Library War Service

During World War I Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson implemented a program that allowed used magazines from individuals to be placed in the mail at a special rate of one cent. The Post Office Department would then arrange to have the magazines delivered to organizations which would distribute the magazines to the members of the Armed Forces. The ALA Library War Service played a major role in the distribution of these magazines and its camp libraries were significant beneficiaries of this program. Magazines during this period often carried a "Burleson notice", a short statement from Burleson about the program and the procedure for its implementation (see at left). While certainly of benefit to the camp libraries and those that used them, the program also had some negative aspects. The major one being that the libraries were often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of magazines, many of which were not of great  interest to the men in uniform. As many as twenty sacks of magazines weighing a hundred pounds each were received by some camp libraries in a single day. The library at Camp Dix (NJ) ended up selling some of the older magazines for waste paper and using the funds received to purchase current in-demand magazines. The photograph below shows sacks of magazines being handled at the ALA Library at Camp Custer (MI). The magazine distribution program was a positive program implemented by  Postmaster General Burleson. Burleson was also responsible for some especially negative activities. One involved his efforts to segregate and eliminate African-American postal workers. The source for much of the information in this post and the photograph below is Theodore Wesley Koch's Books in The War: The Romance of Library War Service (Houghton Mifflin, 1919).

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