Digital World War I Posters at Illinois State University’s Milner Library

Almost 100 years ago, President Wilson spoke before a joint session of Congress on April 4, 1917 and requested a declaration of war against Germany. With the formal declaration of war by Congress on April 6, the United States Government began mobilization of the country to prepare for the war effort and the hardships to come. “Answering the Call,” a digital collection of World War I posters at Illinois State University’s (ISU) Milner Library, provides a glimpse into efforts by the Government to encourage citizens to support war related activities.

Many posters from Federal agencies (such as the Treasury, Food Administration, and Fuel Administration) to encourage citizen to save sugar, buy war saving stamps, or invest in liberty loan bonds were distributed to libraries through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Ange V. Milner, the university’s first Librarian, took a special interest in visual culture and ensured the library had multiple copies of many posters for use throughout campus, as well as for the library’s collection. It is believed she sought out posters directly from the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) (at that time, the U.S. Government Printing Office) and other organizations such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

With the approaching centennial of the start of the war, Milner Library staff undertook an effort to preserve and digitize the World War I posters collected by Ange Milner. Angela Bonnell, the Government Documents Librarian, and Kathleen Lonbom, the Art and Theatre Librarian, received grant funding from the Illinois State University Foundation for an exhibit of the posters and a speaker series to honor the centennial.

As part of the digitization efforts, the posters were inventoried for the first time and received conservation attention. Any tears in the posters were repaired, and surface dirt was removed. The digitization took place in-house at Milner Library’s Digital Center using a Better Light 8K-HS Super 8000 flatbed scanner. Staff from the Federal Documents Department and art students researched the posters to create complete and accurate metadata.

The end result is the Library’s “Answering the Call” digital collection. The collection contains posters from Federal agencies and other organizations involved in the war effort. Users may access the collection by artist, agency, medium, publisher, or subject.

In May 2015, the Milner Library became a GPO partner for this wonderful collection of posters. GPO catalogers created bibliographic records for the posters from Federal agencies. Those records, along with a PURL, are available through GPO’s Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP); simply conduct a keyword search for CATPART; ISU to locate the records.

When asked about partnering with GPO, Angela Bonnell stated,

“We believe strongly these posters are important primary sources vital in learning about World War I and should be made available for permanent public access. The print and digital posters have been used in a variety university courses—students, faculty, and community members are always mesmerized at the vibrant imagery still present within these vintage posters despite their age. As a result of the partnership with GPO, we have been able extend the presence of this historic collection beyond our university. We are thrilled to share access to this collection worldwide.”

GPO thanks the Milner Library and its staff for preserving this important part of American history and making it more widely accessible to depository libraries and all Americans.

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