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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

World War I in the University Archives: External Organizations and WWI

American Library Association

During World War I the American Library Association (ALA) sent over 10 million books and magazines to camp libraries and overseas for the use of servicemen.  The ALA collected $5 million in donations and set up thirty-six camp libraries with the help of the Carnegie Corporation.  “A book for every man” was the initial aim.  Collection development included books  on job training, business, engines, plumbing, carpentry, cement, trains, and entertainment.  Representative record series are below:

  • War Service Correspondence (RS 89/1/5) Bound volumes containing minutes, budgets, reports, bulletins, circulars, directives, pamphlets, and telegrams.
  • Photographs and Slides (RS 89/1/13) Contains photographs, glass plate slides, and postcards depicting ALA's war services.  Note: most of these photographs and slides have been digitized. 
  • Reports (RS 89/1/52) Information on services rended, books supplied, and statistics on the number of books supplied. 

The entire record sub-group can be viewed via the ALA Archives at 89/1/xxxNote:  this database is separate from the University Archives Archon database.

Young Men's Christian Association

Edward Rickenbacker

The YMCA raised and spent over $155,000,000 on welfare efforts for American soldiers during World War I. They deployed over 25,000 staff  to care for the military's morale and comfort operations worldwide.

  • Vergil V. Phelps Papers (RS 2/5/21) Contains his World War I service as a YMCA secretary at Camp Travis, Texas and machine gun officer candidate at Camp Hancock, Georgia.
  • Donald A. and Helen O. Lowrie Papers (RS 15/35/53) Donald Lowrie, YMCA secretary from Ohio, contains photographs and clippings related to Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war at Tomsk, service to Russian soldiers at Odessa, YMCA work in Moscow, and service with the American military at Archangel.
  • Watson F. Lewis Papers (RS 15/35/59) YMCA Secretary serving in Archangel, Russia and Harbin, Manchuria, contains correspondence, photographs, postcards, travel souvenirs, and YMCA reports regarding war relief and youth programs work of the YMCA in Archangel and Harbin.
  • Lorado Taft Papers (RS 26/20/16)  Contains material on Lorado Taft's service in the YMCA during World War I.

Note:  the University does not have the national YMCA Archives.  The above record series are alumni, staff, or faculty that served with the YMCA.


  • The archives changes over time.   The organization of the archives evolves.  Don't hesitate to ask for help!
  • Plan your search. Be sure you have a clear idea of how to approach your topic. Review "Searching the Archives".
  • Try preliminary searches.  Keep in mind that "Subjects" are not keywords and not the same as the subject headings used in the library.   You may need to be creative in your search.
  • Identify the location. If you search the archives database "Archon," and find record series that look promising, make note of the location of the files. 
  • Digital records. When materials are digitized by our archives, the title of those documents may begin with the words "Digital surrogate of..."
  • When all else fails - ask an archivist!!