Having books about the military family by authors who are members of the military family on the shelves of our military exchanges and libraries seems like a no-brainer to me. However, those of us who have been around the world and back know that finding those books at a base or post is not a given.
I’ve been asking fellow military spouses, patrons of military exchanges and libraries around the world to check the availability of military family books, and I’ve been talking to people who work at those facilities about how they choose the books for their shelves.
Results are mixed, and this is a source of frustration for some in the spouse community, including me.
Holly Scherer has many years of experience as an Army spouse, author and advocate of military life. She has been conducting workshops for military spouses for about 15 years alongside co-author Kathie Hightower.
“When we present our workshops, we talk about tools and resources,” Holly said. “We always have a table set up with books written by military spouses for military families. When people ask us where they can get the material, we have to tell them to go to Amazon. Wouldn’t it be nice if books for military spouses and their families were available at the exchange or the base library, so that they could get their hands on them right away?"
It would be nice, but it doesn't always happen that way.
Army wife Benita Koeman, who created Operation We Are Here, an information website for and about military families, said she was surprised at the response from a library staffer at an on-base elementary school.
“I asked if they had any books specifically for military kids,” said Benita. “She advised me that they had researched that and determined there were only three. I then showed her a link to OWAH’s book list for military kids, which lists countless books.”
Some libraries are more proactive. Dorothee Bennett, a library technician at the Eglin Air Force Base Library in Florida, said their staff created a special “Military Families and Deployment” section several years ago when the need became apparent. It includes about 250 titles, she said.
“As we saw more and more military families dealing with deployments, we pulled together materials from our collection. Audio-books and DVDs went side by side with board books, kids and adult books, fiction and nonfiction ... We also ordered new materials as they became available and searched out new resources. Even though the collection focuses on deployment, we also included books on moving and items for spouses new to the military life.”
Across the services, military exchanges do carry books for spouses and families, but the books that are made available and how long they remain on shelves depends mostly on sales figures and third-party distributors, who are contractors for AAFES.
Judd Anstey, public relations manager of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said about 50 of the approximately 3,000 exchange locations worldwide have devoted military family sections. He said about 120 stores carry at least one of the 78 military family titles made available by AAFES distributors.
“The military family section was developed specifically for books written for or by military members,” said Judd. “However, books specifically for military families are considered by exchange distributors on the same basis as any other publisher. Selections are based upon local demographics, customer demand and the business terms that are negotiated between distributors and book publishers.”
Shopping trends at AAFES show that military patrons want the latest books and bestsellers, much like their civilian counterparts, Judd said.
Military spouses who are authors report that military titles, particularly those carried by smaller publishing houses, have some trouble getting the attention of distributors. The books might also have a short shelf life if their sales are low.
Judd said AAFES customers can give feedback, either online or in person to a manager, about books they would like to see at the exchange. Shoppers can special order books if they are on the distributors list, and customers can suggest titles to add to the list of military family books.
One military spouse is working to make resources for military families more available on Marine Corps installations worldwide. Read more about her efforts in next week’s Spouse Calls.
This is the list, provided by AAFES, of locations that have sections dedicated to books for military spouses and families:
Ramstein (KMC Center)
Little Rock AFB
Joint Base San Antonio (Ft. Sam Houston, Lackland AFB and Randolph AFB)
Joint Base Andrews
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
Joint Base Lewis McChord (Ft. Lewis and McChord AFB)
Wright Patterson AFB
Fort Leonard Wood
U.S. Air Force Academy