Providing recreational and entertainment outlets for American servicemen overseas was a paramount concern during World War II. The United Services Organization (USO) is perhaps the most well-known and enduring of these endeavors, supplying troops with live shows and revues performed by major Hollywood celebrities. Less famous but equally as important was the work of The Council on Books in Wartime, an organization formed by booksellers, publishers, authors and libraries whose main focus was to supply reading materials to troops. Americans happily donated books to the cause in numerous community book drives, but most books in the 1940s were heavy large hardcovers and could not be transported easily by troops. To remedy this, the council took bestselling books and fashioned them into a paperback format dubbed Armed Services Editions, which were distributed free of charge to servicemen. These books were purposefully designed to be small and flexible enough to fit into cargo pockets. The program was incredibly successful and paved the way for the rise of paperbacks as a popular and inexpensive book format in the post-war era.
Despite being manufactured by cheap materials, many Armed Services Editions survived the war and are now highly collectible. The Library of Congress has all 1,322 titles that were produced. Here at the Indiana State Library, we have three in our collection that represent works by Indiana authors.
This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at (317) 232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”