Base Libraries Explained

Librarians on military bases provide essential services to the armed forces and their families.

Public libraries are commonly utilized by people all over the world. They provide free reading materials, computer access, and online resources. However, most people don’t realize that military bases offer military personnel and their families similar services. A vital asset that dates to World War I, base libraries are crucial for personal education, career development, and recreation.

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What Are Base Libraries?

Sometimes referred to as military libraries, base libraries offer specialized services for soldiers, veterans, military families, and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians. Like public libraries worldwide, base libraries provide a vital service for military professionals and their families. 

Programs such as Army MWR libraries offer their services to deployed soldiers. Soldiers in remote locations have access to paperback book deliveries and MP3 players distributed by Army MWR base libraries. For military professionals located at the established base, libraries provide online resources, e-books, and on-site librarians.

A Century-Old Tradition

U.S. base libraries have roots that date back to World War I. Libraries played a significant role in the Great War when librarians began collecting and distributing books to soldiers. During WWI, librarians promoted book drives, campaigned for donations and managed hospital and camp libraries.

Libraries eventually continued these services during World War II, when libraries increased in popularity. Base libraries became an essential military resource, but most soldiers found public libraries convenient. Upon realizing the intense demand for library services among military personnel, U.S. base libraries expanded their services and sites of the establishment.

Reflecting Public Libraries

U.S. base libraries significantly reflect services provided by public libraries found in communities across the country. What separates base libraries from public libraries is their purpose for military personnel. Military libraries are solely associated with their establishment base and can only be used by military personnel.

Many of the same services provided by public libraries can be used by military personnel located at the base. Examples of collective library services include shared community spaces, book borrowing, and computer access. Base libraries also carry specialty materials required for certain military personnel.

Base Librarians

Military librarians play a critical role in established U.S. bases. Military libraries allow librarians to work abroad, try new specialties of library science, and support military families. Depending on the responsibilities required by the establishment, U.S. bases and libraries may be staffed by civilians, military personnel with a degree in library science, or both. The Special Libraries Association (SLA) includes a professional community of military librarians working at base libraries worldwide.

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Supporting Military Families

Military families are often forced to make frequent changes when their working loved one is transferred. Thus, family members of military personnel working at the base can use their library’s services. Resources include access to community computers and printers, homeschooling information, and quiet areas for studying.

Although base libraries provide essential services to military families, their impact goes far beyond access to reading materials. Base libraries allow military families to connect with others going through similar experiences, providing comfort and encouragement during difficult times.

Encouraging Children

Research has shown a correlation between children from military families and a higher rate of mental illness. This can happen due to deployment, frequent life changes, and reintegration. Base libraries can provide a supportive, encouraging, educational environment for children who need consistency.

Base librarians offer helpful, specific resources for children from military families. This can look like selections of children’s books representing military families depicting commonly shared experiences. Other essential resources for children include recreational activities, free tutoring services, and reading programs.

Prioritizing Public Education

One of the most critical elements of a base library is its ability to provide free public education for all military personnel. Base libraries offer career development opportunities and chances to expand one’s education. Military personnel can access test preparation materials through base libraries and resources supporting undergraduate and graduate programs through the Army Continuing Education System (ACES).

Educational resources for military personnel go far beyond testing materials. Base libraries can provide books and online resources that include information on writing resumes and job searching strategies. Users can access public education through books, videos, newspapers, magazines, etc.