Libraries Benefit Military Children and Families

Library support can make a big impact on military families.

April is set aside as an appreciation month for military children each year. It’s officially known as the Month of the Military Child, with April 15 designated by the Department of Defense as Military Kids Day, aka Purple Up Day. Purple shows support for all military branches, with all service colors represented. So expect to see Air Force blue, Army green, Navy blue, Marine red, and Coast Guard blue mixed together.


How Military Life Affects Children

While there is no “average” American family, most civilians’ lives differ from military and related personnel. For example, it’s normal for military family members to move from one base to another, sometimes overseas, to keep up with enlisted members’ careers.

As Mary Edwards Wertsch, author of the 1991 book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, puts it, “Not only does the military constitute a separate and distinctly different subculture from civilian America, it exercises such a powerful shaping influence on its children that for the rest of our lives we continue to bear its stamp.”

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Military Personnel Who Are Parents

Research from the National Center on Children in Poverty (NCCP) shows military families fall into three different employment categories.

  • Department of Defense (38.8%) and Coast Guard (1.2 %) Active Duty
  • Reserves comprise ready reserve (31%), standby reserve (.6%), and retired reserve (5.5%)
  • Department of Defense civilian personnel (22.9%)

And since roughly the same proportions of active duty military (43.2%) and reservists (41.9%) personnel have children, it isn’t hard to imagine military bases as communities.

However, as alluded to above, they differ significantly from traditional civilian communities. After all, almost everyone living on or employed at a military base lives in a contingent environment — most waiting anxiously for an upcoming career change, relocation, or deployment.

How Domestic Life Affects Military Children

Military families’ stresses and expectations can lead to mental health issues and related concerns for military children of every age. These stressors include:

  • General tension in military families leads to depression, PTSD, and other mental health concerns. Sadly, these conditions sometimes involve children’s mistreatment.
  • Frequent moves, bring an almost constant flow of new schools, which, in turn, involves adapting to ever-changing routines, curricula, teachers, classmates, and more — before yet another transition.
  • There is a drastic shortage of military and civilian mental health providers with military family expertise due to a lack of adequate policy.
    Military children’s tendency to develop a high resilience capacity that is stressful on its own.
  • Similar concerns also impact at-home parents and other caregivers, potentially worsening children’s experience in the home environment.
    Still, some military children have stated that they value the experience and skills gained from their military childhoods.

External support can make them feel welcome and engaged. And here is where libraries enter the picture.

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What Libraries Offer Military Children and Families

Libraries of all kinds serve military families and children, yet few civilians fully comprehend what library workers do for military families and how they achieve it.

Base Libraries

The military’s internal “public” library system comprises 250 base libraries with services and materials similar to civilian public libraries (the Navy also maintains a general library for ships).

School libraries can also be found at K-12 schools on most military bases that house families, especially those in other countries. DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) operates 160 schools in eight districts comprising 11 foreign countries, seven states, and two territories across ten different time zones.

Public Libraries and Library Associations

Most military family members can leave the base to visit a nearby town or city, and some actually live outside the base. So visiting a public library is nearly always an option. Public libraries or library systems often choose locations near local or regional bases and stock them with books, periodicals, and technologies likely to interest service members and their families.

For example, the Illinois Library Association maintains a Military Families & Children Toolkit containing titles about aspects of military family life. And so that no family member is overlooked, the toolkit lists and previews books for ages zero through adult.

In another instance, Fort Bragg’s Throckmorton Library is part of the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) network of support and leisure services designed for use by U.S. service members, families, retirees, and other eligible military-connected participants.

In 2015, to break down military-civilian barriers in Cumberland County, NC (home to Fort Bragg), the county’s Public Library and Information Center were created. This project was part of a joint effort with the American Library Association (ALA) to discover through surveys how MWR base libraries and public libraries could collaborate on public services, publicity, and other measures to increase awareness of what the military offers a local community.

Another article raises important questions about how well military family lifestyles are reflected in the books on library shelves. The author points out that “at several libraries and military bases [she] found that presenting suitable books to reflect children’s experiences, while remaining sensitive to concerns about war and weapons, can be challenging.”

Public libraries strive to develop collections for children and teens that reflect both the history and the current realities military children and families face. What if other libraries had the military-civilian relationship that Throckmorton Library (MWR), Fort Bragg, and Cumberland County, NC have? Would we see more updating of children’s and teens’ collections to better reflect life in today’s armed forces?

Libraries Serve Military Families, and the Military Serves All of Us

Many public libraries serve military families, whether they live in base housing or outside the base where their enlisted member is stationed. Libraries do a lot for our armed forces and their families. Have you given efforts like these any thought if you’re a civilian? If not, you might better understand military children and their concerns by engaging more with the topics discussed here.