Books for Swabbies: Ship's Libraries in the "New" Steel Navy, 1880s-1930s 1


Charles A. Seavey

This paper is a web based version of a talk originally presented at Library Research Seminar III, Kansas City, MO., October 10, 2004, and a somewhat revised version presented at the 36th Annual Maritime History Symposium: Life in the Shipyard and Life at Sea, Maine Maritime Museum, April 13, 2008. Read by James L. Nelson.

What follows is actually more complex than the title would suggest. To be sure there is a story to be told of ship and crew libraries in the "new" United States Navy that came into being in the late 19th century. There is also an investigation of two differing philosophies of building a collection of books. By comparing the contents of ship and crew libraries with the recommendations of the American Library Association (ALA) we can see that fundamentally differing approaches to book collections were in place. I will be argued that the ALA recommendations were for an "ideal" library only partially grounded in real world conditions. The Navy, on the other hand, was basing their selections on both the nature of their ship-borne libraries, and the world in which those ships operated. The Navy, in this instance, was far more aware of what their readers might actually want to read than was the ALA.

In one sense this study springs from suggestions by both Arthur Young and Wayne Wiegand that the military was generally more willing to place light reading (fiction) in the hands of their men than then current ALA practice was willing to allow for.[1, 2] There is also a certain amount of serendipity involved. While looking for something else I came across a bibliography of published ship's and crew's libraries in the Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-19092.[3] Book catalogs are fascinating in and of themselves, and they provide a wonderful potential lens for investigating cultural influences and biases at a specific time and place.[4,5] 3 Since the Navy catalogs were published at roughly the same time as the ALA catalogs (explained below), comparison seemed a way of looking at the mindset of the two institutions.

At this point I need to briefly sketch the state of libraries in the United States during the latter part of the 19th Century. [6] Public libraries, in the sense of tax supported, open to all, with something resembling a professional staff, came into being with the founding of Boston Public Library in 1854. There had been various methods of funding semi-public libraries prior to then, notably the "social library," the first of which was the Library Company of Philadelphia, started by Ben Franklin in Philadelphia in 1731. In the end voluntary contributions were simply not enough to support an ongoing institution and from 1854 until well into the 20th century public libraries moved to the tax supported model.

Libraries of all types acquired a national association with the founding of the American Library Association in 1876. The ALA was the first professional library association in the world, and has a considerable influence over the development of national codes and library practices both in the 19th century and now. We will return to the ALA downstream a bit.

By 1880 there were over 1,000 communities in the US that had tax supported public libraries. By 1930 the number was pushing 5,000 and would continue to grow right through the Great Depression- but that is another story, told elsewhere on this site:

The development of public libraries has an air of "social crusade" about it. Women's clubs were deeply involved, and there are definite ties to many of the 19th century social reform movements. A case can be made that public libraries were seen, at least by some, as a necessary component of having the informed citizenry necessary for a democracy to fully function. I think the whole "movement" can also be seen as a thread in thinking during the Progressive Era. Obviously we are making a very long story very short here.

The state of U.S. Navy may also require a bit of review.

The "New" Navy

After the Civil War the United States Navy underwent a long period of neglect. [7] 4 The nation was more interested in attempting to bind wounds, expand westward, and ride the wave of the industrial revolution than maintaining or building a navy. At sea the Royal Navy of Great Britain reigned supreme and threats to the U.S. coast seemed an unlikely circumstance. After revolutionizing naval warfare with the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia in March of 1862, by 1880 the U.S. Navy was "...not a second rate or even third rate force. It was twelfth-rate. Even the navies of Chile and China exceeded it in ironclad strength." [7, p. 4]

Slowly the situation started changing. The Garfield administration, taking office in 1881, initiated a series of Naval Advisory Boards with the task of modernizing the navy. Congress was not enthusiastic, Garfield was assassinated, and it was not until 1883 that a cautious beginning was authorized (and funded) by Congress. Progress was slow. American ship building capabilities were not quite up to the task, and the designs for the first small steel cruisers were highly derivative of British practice. Later the Navy simply bought plans from naval architects in the U.K.

USS Brooklyn

Figure 1, the U.S.S. Brooklyn (1895-1921) shows a reasonably typical vessel of the period, although somewhat larger than the famous and somewhat earlier cruiser Olympia. Brooklyn was the U.S.Navy representative at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee naval review, and was later a major combatant at the Battle of Santiago, July 3, 1898.

Once started, however, the expansion was inexorable. A second and third generation of cruisers followed the original three. By 1886 Congress authorized the Maine and Texas, second class battleships. By 1891 the Indiana class coastal battleships were under construction, and in 1896 the U.S.S. Iowa, the first true U.S. battleship was launched. In 1906 construction started on South Carolina and Michigan- battleships that conceptually foreshadowed the Royal Navy's famed Dreadnought although their construction was slothlike compared to Dreadnought. The expansion of the American navy was truly underway.[8 ] 5 By 1914 the U.S. Navy was the third largest in the world.

The naval expansion may have happened anyway. Certainly the U.S. Navy had no where to go but up. It is, however, worth noting two remarkable books published during this time period, however. First was Theodore Roosevelt's The Naval War of 1812 [9] published in 1882. The young TR's volume was a cautionary tale about military preparedness, and the war of 1812 had been a huge success for the Navy. The second book was Alfred Thayer Mahan's Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 1783. [10] Roosevelt's book was hugely popular, and he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1897-1898. Mahan's book went into many editions, and was highly influential in naval circles. One of the less well informed readers of Influence... was a young Kaiser Wilhelm - an event with far reaching consequences [11, xxiii-xxiv]

Books at Sea

Enough background. We move to the development of ships libraries. It all started, appropriately enough, on the U.S.S. Franklin. "It" in this case, referring to libraries carried by U.S. Naval vessels. The Franklin in question was in service some time before the period under consideration, but she does serve as an appropriate starting point for a brief recapitulation of U.S. Naval ship's libraries prior to our study.

USS <i>Franklin</i>, 1819

U.S.S. Franklin was a 74 gun ship of the line built in Philadelphia in 1815. [12] 6 In 1820 she was chosen to be the flagship of Commodore Charles Stewart on the USN's Pacific station. Stewart, among other things, immediately started purchasing books for the ship. He was energetic enough that the Navy finally told him that no more could be purchased at public expense. Other books arrived on board via the Committee for the Distribution of Books to Seamen, a New York based group who had been providing small libraries for merchant vessels. The crew of the Franklin took up a collection to further increase the book collection. We have then, on one vessel, three nineteenth century models for funding libraries. Direct expenditure by the government (Stewart's purchases), a mechanic's library (the Committee....), and a social library (the crew's pooling of resources). The whole story is considerably more complex than outlined here, but after the Franklin the presence of a library aboard U.S. Naval vessels was, to a certain extent, institutionalized. As we shall see by the end of the 1820s the Navy bureaucracy was dealing with book selection..

The Catalogs

Early Ship's Libraries and Naval Catalogs

Lists of books for naval vessels exist in manuscript form from as early as 1828 [12, p. 136] The earliest printed list appears in Rules of Navy Department Regulating Civil Administration of Navy of 1832 [13], with printed updates in 1839, 1844, 1852, and 1860. [12, pp. 138-166] These early lists were exactly that- lists. The 1832 Rules... lists 35 books by title alone. Some of these are multi-volume sets (Encyclopedia Britannica, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) but it was not a large collection. Skallerup, in Books Afloat & Ashore, argues that the 1844 version, while not actually using subject headings, is organized in a "slight adaptation of Jacques Brunet's scheme of book classification." [12, p. 148] Lists subsequent to 1844 employed the same general organizational scheme.

1844, in a sense, represents the high water mark for ship-borne libraries until the advent of the new Navy. The founding of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the establishment of the library there, shifted the focus of book collection to that institution. With the onset of the Civil War libraries assumed a rather low priority in both the Union and Confederate navies. [12, pp. 138-166] Post Civil War we have seen that the Navy itself suffered in desuetude until the 1880s. Re-establishing ship's libraries, at least based on the evidence of the catalogs, was not an immediate priority.

The first signs of interest in ship's libraries was the publication of Catalogue of Library Books Issued to Vessels of the Navy issued in 1886 from the Bureau of Navigation. [14] It as an inclusive list for all ships listing 364 titles, all non-fiction, arranged in subject groups loosely connected to the 1844 scheme. Supplements were issued in 1887, 1901, and 1902, the latter two from the Bureau of Equipment. [3, pp. 707, 787] In addition to the book catalogs published as such there is a list of books included in Articles Under Cognizance of the Bureau of Equipment...for vessels of the United States Navy [15, 124-165] published in 1891. By 1891 the title count was up to 534, again all non-fiction, arranged in 15 classes that bear little resemblance to the final classification scheme described below.

The Bureau of Navigation, in addition to the duties implicit in the agency's title, also functioned as the bureau of personnel, or modern human resources department. The Bureau of Equipment was in charge of all the stores and equipment with which each vessel was provided. Knowledge of these responsibilities is crucial to an argument that will be made below.

Walker in retirement. He'd worn
the whiskers while still on duty.
Administrative responsibility for ship's libraries rested in the Bureau of Navigation until January 1, 1890. Chief of the Bureau of Navigation from October, 1881, to October of 1889 was Commodore John G. Walker. [16 55-62] 7 who seems to be responsible for at least starting the expansion of ship's and crew's libraries. Until the mid-1880s "books" meant professional books. "Further additions of professional books have been made to the libraries of cruising ships," states the annual report of the Bureau of Navigation in 1886. [17, 1886, p. 152] In 1888 Walker notes:

These library books are intended for the use of all the officers and enlisted mean attached to cruising vessels and are much appreciated during the long and tedious cruises abroad.[17, 1888, p. 79]

Then in 1889 Walker makes a major point about ships libraries in his annual report:

It is now proposed to still further increase these libraries by about three hundred volumes more especially intended for the instruction and amusement of the enlisted men. A better educated and more intelligent class of men now enters the naval service.... The leisure of these men must be looked to, and the careful selection of a library for their use is a wise provision to this end.[17, 1889, p. 300]

Keeping Walker's views on the nature of enlisted men, it is probably worth noting at this time that as nearly as I can tell the US Navy was light years ahead of other navies in this regard. Books, other than purely personal holdings, did not appear in Great Britain's Royal Navy until 1913 when the remarkable William Hall assumed command of the new battlecruiser Queen Mary. A "bookstall" was just part of Hall's innovations for the benefit of the crew. He was regarded as "wild and irresponsible" by more conservative senior officers in the Royal Navy. Most of Hall's innovations were standard RN practice within a few years. 8

Walker finished his tour as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, and went on to command the Squadron of Evolution, the first operational unit of the new steel navy. On January 1, 1890 responsibility for ships libraries was transferred to the Bureau of Equipment, the office responsible for equipping naval vessels with ships stores. [18] During this period the various Bureaux were fiercely independent and competitive, a situation that lasted until the organizational reforms starting in 1909-1910. [19 149-205] Normally the transfer of a function from one bureau to another might be regarded as a defeat for the losing bureau. The transfer of the ship's library program, however, may be seen in a different light. Given Walker's attention to ship's libraries in the 1880s, and particularly the language about "leisure of these men..." quoted above, we can make a case that Walker got the program organized and funded in the Bureau of Navigation as part of the Bureau's personnel management function, but after he left, the program was well enough established as to be routine and was transferred to Bureau of Equipment. Additional weight is lent to this argument by the fact that Captain George Dewey, the future hero of Manila Bay, became chief of the Bureau of Equipment in July of 1889, three months before Walker's departure from the Bureau of Navigation. Dewey and Walker were friends, and Walker was somewhat of a mentor to Dewey. [16] The transfer of the ship's library program may well have been arranged between the two prior to Walker's departure. In any case the move to the Bureau of Equipment certainly recognized the fact that libraries were now an accepted part of naval life and equipment.

For all that, it was not until 1894 when Commodore French Chadwick succeeded Dewey as chief of the Bureau of Equipment that the separate crew's library, containing fiction, was established. [17, 1896, 42.] Certainly none of the inventories published before Chadwick's time contain any fiction. While the Navy Department Annual Report is silent on the topic it seems likely that Chadwick's administration was ultimately responsible for the development of the classification scheme noted below.

Under either bureau the administration and most of the distribution of ship's libraries was largely done at the New York (Brooklyn) Navy Yard, with some distribution being done at Mare Island, California.[17, 1902] The records of the New York Navy Yard are held in the Northeast Region of the National Archives and Records Administration. While there is correspondence with publishers, and directions about forwarding books to various vessels and naval stations, material dealing with the organization and administration of the libraries has apparently not survived.[20] The discussion of the ship's catalogs, and the classification system below are all based, therefore, on published sources.

The USN ship's catalogs investigated for this article are far more than mere lists, but come close to being actual catalogs in the modern sense of the word. Bibliographic information is limited to author and title, but classification numbers (see below) are provided, along with an outline of the classification scheme.

The first individual ship's catalog is that of the ill fated U.S.S. Maine. She was launched in 1889, but the catalog was not issued until June of 1896. [3, p. 710] There are catalogs for older vessels. The U.S.S. Miantonomoh, a monitor designed in the mid-1870s has a catalog issued, but not until 1904 when she was very near the end of her time in service. The great majority of ship's catalogs were issued in the 20th century, often long after launching of the vessel in question, although the U.S.S. Oregon (that famously transited from the Pacific to the Atlantic for the War of 1898) was launched in 1893, commissioned in 1895, and received her cataloged in 1897.

The five catalogs used in this study 9 are uniform in format. The titles are Catalogue of the Ship's and Crew's Libraries of the U.S.S. ______.[3, pp. 707-713] The first two pages are "Outline of Classification of Library Books," followed by two sections, both in class order. First comes the "Ship's Library" followed by the "Crew's Library." We will explore the differences between the two types below. All are issued by the Navy Bureau of Equipment, and printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

The 1909 Checklist [3, pp. 707-713] lists catalogs for 143 vessels, some in multiple editions. The five used in this study were located in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in the summer of 2000. Generalizing from this small sample to the larger universe requires some caution. The vessels in question are all of the largest types being built at the time. Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are the 9th, 16th and 17th battleships built by the "new" navy. California, and Tennessee, despite their names, are technically armored cruisers, although both are in fact larger than Wisconsin. Naval architecture was in a considerable state of flux at the time. Collectively their libraries are doubtless larger than those of lesser vessels, simply because of the physical space available, and the size of the crew. All five carried crews of at least 800, ranging to over 1000 depending on whether war or peace prevailed. [8] The data here are probably a very good representation of the contents of larger U.S. naval vessels of the time. As size of vessel decreases, so does the reliability of any generalizations we might make, particularly in terms of specific collection content. Having said that, it is likely that the various percentages expressed here are representative of the entire fleet.

The American Library Association (ALA) Catalogs

The catalog of the American Library Association has a long genesis dating back to 1879.[2] 10 The three volumes [21,22,23] , were published as an effort to provide

...a list of about 5,000 of the best books with compact notes indicating scope, character and value, to be known as the A.L.A. Catalog.... (the list would serve) 1. As a guide to bookbuyers whether for private of public libraries. [22, p. 5] 11

The 1893 edition contained 5,230 volumes, the 1904 edition had grown to 7520 volumes, and the 1912 supplement contained an additional 2603 volumes. The 1893 volume, since it did not overlap with the Navy catalogs, was not inspected for this discussion. The 1904 volume is in two parts, the first 403 pages containing a synopsis of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, a classed (by DDC) list of the 7,520 volumes, and a subject index. The second section of 485 pages contains a synopsis of Cutter's Expansive Classification, and a dictionary catalog of the 7,520 volumes.

The 1912 A.L.A. Catalog contains, in a DDC classed list, material published between the previous edition and early 1912. Both the 1904 and 1912 volumes contain lists of publishers, with addresses, and lists of "Authorities" used for the annotations.

Comparing the Catalogs

While comparisons will be made below, some words of caution are appropriate. The ALA and Navy catalogs are intended for the use of very different kinds of communities. The last sentence falls in the "announcing the obvious" category, but some times the obvious needs to be reiterated. The ALA catalog is aimed at general public libraries for probably nothing larger than a medium sized city. The Navy catalogs used here are for communities of 800-1,000 maximum, all of one gender, with a very narrow age demographic.

Classification Comparison. In comparing the contents of the ALA Catalog and the Navy catalogs, aggregation by DDC classes seemed preferable to comparing several thousand titles one on one. Fortunately the ALA Catalogs provided such an aggregation by main DDC class, and the Navy organized their catalogs by class number. Unfortunately the Navy classification is a home grown system, so it is necessary to map Navy classification numbers into DDC in order to make comparisons.

We probably do not need a lot of background on DDC, other than to be reminded there are 10 main classes, subdividing into 100 divisions, and 1,000 sections.

The Navy system is home grown and unique to the Navy. 12 There are 28 class numbers, starting with 1. General Works, and proceeding through to 28. Foreign Fiction (except English) and Essays. After working with the system for some time it became obvious that while the numbering system is different, and the overall sequence somewhat different, the Navy classification scheme is, in fact, very similar to DDC. Table 1 presents similarities:

DDC Class/Term Navy Class/Term
000 General Works 1 General Works
100 Philosophy 23 Philosophy
200 Religion 24 Religion
300 Sociology 8 Sociology
400 Philology
which is 1904 terminology for the current usage: Language
25 Language
500 Natural Science 6 Natural Sciences
600 Useful Arts 5 Useful Arts
700 Fine Arts 7 Fine arts
810 American Literature
820 Enlish Literature
830-890 (everybody else)
27 American and English Fiction and Essays
28 Foreign Fiction (except English) and essays
811 Poetry
812 Drama
26 Poetry and Drama
900 History
910 Geography and Travels
942 England, Wales
943 Germany, Austria
944 France
945 Italy
946 Spain, Portugal
947 Russia
950 Asia
960 Africa
970 North America
980 South America
990 Oceanica. Polar Regions
10 History and Geography
11 Great Britain
12 France
13 Germany and Austria
14 Italy

15 Russia and Spain

17 Africa and Asia

18 United States
19 North, Central, and South America
10 Oceanica and Polar Regions

Let me suggest that the Navy classification system is partially based on DDC. Consider the similarities noted on the table. Despite the differing numerical designators, the two schemes are far too convergent in parts of the overall structure, particularly the DDC 900s-Navy 10-20 sequence, and in use of terminology, for it to be accidental. Further, the Bureau of Equipment was familiar with at least some current library practice. In the Instructions for Use and Care of Libraries under the Bureau of Equipment of 1897, reference is made to "Cutter's Alfabetic Order Table." The spelling of "alfabetic" is also used by Dewey in referring to his "relativ" index in the DDC.

Most Navy classes mapped easily into DDC. Navy classes 2 (Naval and Military Intelligence and Information) and 3 (Naval and Military Arts) were the most problematic. Class 2 seems to fit at least loosely with the DDC 300s, and Class 3 a little more tightly with the 600s, particularly 623, military and naval engineering. In any case all numerical comparisons below are based on the class equivalents presented in table 2:

Table 2: DDC and Navy Class Equivalents Used in this Study
Dewey Main Class as of 1904 Navy Class Equivalents
General, including bibliography: 000
Philosophy: 100
Religion: 200
2, 8, 9
Language: 400
Natural Science: 500
Useful Arts: 600
3, 5
Fine Arts: 700
Literature: 800
26, 27, 28
History: 900
4, 10-22

A Tale of Two Catalogs
Copies were made of the ship's catalogs located at SHSW. All books were entered into a spreadsheet. Data elements included author, title, class number, and holdings in either ship's or crew's libraries for each vessel. This resulted in a spreadsheet of 2,779 titles. Later all 2,779 titles were checked against the ALA catalogs of 1904 and 1912. 932 titles were in both the Navy lists and the 1904 catalog, with an additional 80 commonly held titles in the 1912 supplement. 13 This information was noted in the spreadsheet. All of the numerical data presented in this article are based on manipulations of the spreadsheet.

Comparison by Subject Content

Table 3 shows that in comparing subject groupings ALA and the Navy are not radically different except in the matter of fiction. Inspecting dis-aggregated data, however, shows a rather different picture. First we will consider the differences between "ships" and "crews" libraries, then turn to a comparison of ALA recommendations, and actual Navy holdings.

Crew's Library, USS Brooklyn ca 1900

Ships and Crews Libraries Compared

The Navy ship's catalogs do not say so, but the holdings in the "ship's" section are for the officers, and the "crew's" libraries are for the enlisted men. This is made explicit in the 1897 Instructions for Use...: "The Ship's Library is intended for the use of the officers of the ship." [24, p.1] This codified long standing custom:

During the years between the appearance of the 1832 regulations and the compilation of the revised list of books in 1839, the ship's library (also referred to as "officers' library," and "cabin library") became a standard feature aboard naval vessels. [12, p.138]

Ship's Library, USS Olympia, 1899

Figure 2 shows the crew's library on the USS Brooklyn sometime between 1896 and 1901. While the surroundings are not as elegant as those depicted in Figure 3 there are at least 14 crew members present, including at least three African-Americans. Figure 3 shows what is probably the Officer's mess on USS Olympia in 1899. Note the books shelved above the bar! These two pictures are a very clear illustration of the distance between crew and officers in the Navy of that day. 14

Correlating the collections

Correlations were run comparing ship's and crew's libraries for each ship. All were negatively correlated, Tennessee the most strongly. 15 On Tennessee the ship's and crew's libraries hold only 40 titles in common and 77% of those 40 are accounted for by seven classes:

Table 4:Common Holdings, by Navy Class, Ship's and Crew's Libraries, USS Tennessee
N Class Description
Useful arts, electrical, engineering, mechanical, medicine
Naval and Military Arts
Naval and Military History
Oceana and polar regions (History and Travel)
Africa and Asia (History & Travel)

The differences between the two libraries are far more interesting than the commonalities. There are 1597 titles in the catalog of the Tennessee. Comparing, by DDC class, the contents of the ship's and crew's libraries is detailed in table 5:

DDC Ship's N Ship's % Crew N Crew %
General, including
Bibliography (000)
Philosophy (100)
Religion (200)
Sociology (300)
Language (400)
Natural Science (500)
Useful Arts (600)
Fine Arts (700)
Literature (800)
History (900)

The two highlighted cells essentially say it all. The Navy is clearly interested in having officers thoroughly familiar with the lands to which they might travel. 16 They are equally clear on the idea that the crew must have a large amount of escapist literature available. On the other hand, while the officers are not expected to be reading much fiction, the crew is provided with a fair amount of material in the 900s, and both officers and crew have technical literature (the 600s) to read.

Navy Holdings and ALA Recommendations

Despite general agreement in proportion of subjects as shown in table 3 above, the Navy sharply disagrees on the matter of individual titles. In fact only 36% of the Navy holdings appear in the ALA catalog. Table 6 details, by DDC, the degree of difference between Navy selection and ALA recommendation.

DDC Class % Agree with ALA selection % Disagree with ALA Selection
General, including
Bibliography (000)
Philosophy (100)
Religion (200)
Sociology (300)
Language (400)
Natural Science (500)
Useful Arts (600)
Fine Arts (700)
Literature (800)
History (900)

Table 6 compares the percentage of titles noted in both the ALA catalog and the Navy catalogs. What we see is that except for DDC 000 and the 900s, the Navy is exercising independent judgment in selecting material for their vessels. In the case of the 600s, Useful Arts, this is hardly surprising. The Preface to the 1904 ALA Catalog states:

Technical books...this list is primarily for general readers and not for professional men or special students. [22, p.6]

The New Navy was extremely technical at this time. All naval technology was evolving at a pace considerably more rapid than at present, or previously. Warships during the age of sail evolved slowly. Warships in the age of iron and steel made vast changes in short periods of time as naval architects struggled to find the correct blend of power, armament, and armor in a rapidly changing technological milieu. Wisconsin and New Jersey, two of our study ships serve as a case in point. Wisconsin, displacing 11,564 tons, was commissioned into service in 1901, and was basically obsolete by 1910. New Jersey, displacing 14,948 tons (29% larger than Wisconsin) was commissioned in 1906, required an 18 month modernization starting in 1910, yet during WWI was reduced to the status of training vessel. 17 By way of comparison U.S.S. Franklin served from 1817 until 1852, and the final USS Wisconsin, the last U.S.N. battleship served, with some de-commissioned time, from 1944 until 1991.[8]

Likewise the level of disagreement in the 300s may be explained by mapping Navy class 2, Naval and Military Intelligence and Information into that class. Public libraries are simply not going to be interested in such material except on a very general basis.

Explanations for disagreement in other areas are less obvious. Wiegand has made clear that the contents of the ALA catalog were assembled with the help of a considerable amount of expert opinion from outside librarianship [2]. We have made a case that the Bureaux of Navigation and Equipment were not unaware of then modern library practice, yet chose to disagree with both ALA and the experts more often than not. In part the differences may simply be the demographics involved. It may also be that Dewey (Melvil that is, not the Admiral) and his experts were not actually dealing with demographics. They were aimed at an ideal and mythical community that had no existence in the real world. In trying to provide a catalog for that community's library they succeeded only in creating a catalog not anchored in the reading habits of a real citizenry, but in their elitist notions of what a community should be reading. The ALA catalogs fit the demographics of neither Rockport, Massachusetts nor Santa Fe, New Mexico very well, and while the collections of both libraries may have reflected ALA suggestions local preferences and practices may have deviated considerably.

The Navy, on the other hand, had a very real community in mind, and a very real idea of what that community is doing on any given day. In establishing ship's and crew's libraries, with the differences we have seen here, they were taking notice of class differences in their community. Their pragmatic approach lead them to a book collection firmly rooted in the reading needs of their ship borne population. The Navy catalogs tell us far more about their real communities than the ALA catalog tells us about their idealized notion of a community.

Having provided ships libraries the question inevitably becomes one of usage. Evidence is hard to come by. The autobiographies from the period tend to concentrate on personalities and larger issues than the interior life of the crew. George Dewey, for all the extensive library on Olympia never mentions the topic. [29]

Cooling, in USS Olympia , recounts the myriad details that had to be accomplished as the contractor got ready to turn over the vessel to the Navy:

By this time, both contractor and department were spending much time ironing out wrinkles with the galley, her silver plateware of a new pattern, carpeting and curtains for cabins and wardroom, china and glassware for flag officer and captain, soap and brush trays, even earthenware slop jars, double tin foot tubs, and the first books for the ship's library. These items included diplomatic correspondence, history, and biography, even a premier book on naval architecture by renowned English designer William White. [27, pp. 23-24] 18

Rear Admiral Bradley Fiske clearly appreciated libraries, but the only one he mentions directly is in his father's house:

He had a good library, and I found there that peculiar and satisfying companionship with the great and good people of the past and present that can be found nowhere, except in a library. [30, p. 59]

Fiske does recount the story of finding his steward reading Emerson's Essay's while on cruise in the USS Minneapolis in 1906. Fiske then got the man a copy of Kipling's Plain Tales from the Hills. The steward judged that Kipling was good for the mind, but Emerson was "more stimulating to the soul." [30, p.383] Both books appear in the navy catalogs. Emerson, interestingly enough, in the ship's library, and Kipling in the crew's.

John G. Walker, in letters to his wife during a year long cruise commanding USS Sabine (1869-1870) mentions reading, but without specifying the titles involved. [16, pp. 32-50].

During the era of the steel navy, although on an older vessel, Charles I. West, Chief Steward of the USS Enterprise, in recounting their visit to Malaga, Spain in January of 1889 mentions that "Before I went ashore I had just finished a book titled The Moors in Spain" [31, p. 71] 19 The Moors in Spain appears in the catalogs of the ship's library for all four vessels being studied here. Either the barriers between the ship's and crew's libraries were fairly porous, or West, as Chief Steward, had considerable access to "Officer's country."

The crew of the Enterprise pictured here is in 1890- after the return from the Mediterranean cruise. The solitary black face may be Charles I West, although I had not seen the picture when I had access to the cruise log.

There are doubtless other bits and bobs of evidence in books and correspondence, and if anybody finds any, I would be interested in learning of them.

We've spent a considerable amount of time getting ship's libraries established. "Established" is, I think, the key here. By 1910 or thereabouts the presence of libraries on board warships, at least in the US Navy, was simply part of doing business. The system was bureauocratized, and governed by regulations of some length. We have also seen that the Navy was quite progressive in many ways socially as well as technologically. They were perfectly willing to borrow some practice from the then dominant thinking in American librarianship, but were also able to depart from then accepted practice in the matter of light fiction, and other material. The now unknown men in charge of selecting books and arranging for ship's libraries were very aware of their reading constituency, and considerably more attuned to what we now call demographics than the mavens of the American Library Association.

The story gets more difficult to trace after the advent of World War I. Books and libraries were now an accepted part of the Navy, and references in annual reports fade away, to be replaced by a line here and there in the tables of expenditures.

Some time ago I had the great good fortune of interviewing a gent who had, as a Navy enlisted man in the 1930's been on board USS Texas. I'll call him Chester. Chester wound up as the library assistant on Texas. By regulation starting in1913 the ship's navigator was nominally in charge of the library. By Chester's time, however, the Chaplin was running the library. Chester reports that shipments of books would arrive- most likely from Mare Island, as Texas spent much of the 30's in the Pacific- and he would be in charge of shelving the material. The Chaplain would occasionally supplement the regular shipments by spending some of his own money on interesting material. Chester reckons that a fair percentage of the crew used the library, although "never when in port." Texas returned to the Atlantic in 1937, and Chester's enlistment ran out. He went to college, and, shortly after Pearl Harbor, was commissioned back into the Navy. His service then was either on destroyers, or on shore. The destroyers had no organized libraries, although there were some on the larger vessels even during war time.

Texas is now a museum ship that I had the opportunity to visit some years ago. Chester had made a visit not long after Texas became a museum and told me that the library he had worked in was no longer extant- the whole area had been re-done somewhere along the line, doubtless due to the exegencies of wartime service.

USS Texas North Atlantic, 1941


The U.S. Navy, generally thought of as a very conservative institution, does not always behave that way. The provision of books on ships has a long history of not just support but actual expenditure of funds. The British Royal Navy had sporadic attempts at putting books on shipboard, but they were largely privately organized, and not funded by the RN. By 1913 when the skipper of the new battlecruiser Queen Mary installed a bookstall he was regarded as "wild and irresponsible" by more conservative senior officers. By contrast the U.S. Navy simply went about funding and organizing ship's libraries with little fuss. Further, as we have seen, they were more than willing to be considerably more progressive in providing fiction for their readers than then current mainstream library practice would allow. The Navy also largely ignored accepted library wisdom of the day in terms of book selection. Perhaps they had a better idea of their audience than did the gurus of the American Library Association.


1. Young, Arthur. Books for Sammies: the American Library Association and World War I Pittsburgh: Beta Phi Mu, 1981.

2. Wiegand, Wayne. "Catalog of "A.L.A. " Library (1893): Origins of a Genre" in: For the Good of the Order: Essays in Honor of Edward G. Holley edited by Delmus E. Williams, et al, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1994.

3. U.S. Superintendent of Documents, Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909. Washington:GPO, 1911.

4. Davis, Richard Beale A Colonial Southern Bookshelf, Athens:University of Georgia Press, 1979.

5. Pawley, Christine. Reading on the Middle Border: The Culture of Print in Late-Nineteenth-Century Osage, Iowa. Amherst:University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

6. Davis, Donald G. and John Mark Tucker. American Library History : a Comprehensive Guide to the Literature Santa Barbara:ABC Clio, 1989.

7. Alden, John D. The American Steel Navy: A Photographic History of the U.S. Navy from the Introduction of the Steel Hull in 1883 to the Cruise of the Great White Fleet, 1907-1909. U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1972.

8. U.S. Navy. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. 8 volumes. Washington, DC: GPO, 1959-1981.

9. Roosevelt, Theodore. The Naval War of 1812 New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1882.

10. Mahan, Alfred Thayer. Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 1783, Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1890.

11. Massie, Robert K. Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War New York: Random House, 1991.

12. Skallerup, Harry R. Books Afloat & Ashore Hamden, CT:Archon Books, 1974.

13. Rules of Navy Department Regulating Civil Administration of Navy Washington: F.P. Blair, 1832.

14. U.S. Bureau of Navigation. Catalogue of Library Books Issued to Vessels of the Navy. Washington:U.S. Government Printing Office, 1886.

15. Articles under Cognizance of the Bureau of Equipment...for Vessels of the United States Navy. Washington DC: USGPO, 1891.

16. Thomas, Frances P. Career of John Grimes Walker, U.S.N., 1835-1907. Boston: n.p., 1959.

17. U.S. Department of the Navy Annual Report Washington: USGPO, years as noted.

18. U.S. Department of the Navy General Order no. 379, issued December 26, 1889. Washington DC: USGPO 1890 (?).

19. Wiegand, Wayne. Patrician in the Progressive Era: A Biography of George Von Lengerke Meyer New York: Garland Press, 1988.

20. Letter from Gregory J. Plunges, NARA, June 19th, 2003, author's files.

21. U.S. Bureau of Education. Catalog of A.L.A. Library, 5000 Volumes for a Popular Library, Selected by American Library Association, and Shown at World's Columbian Exhibition, 1893, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1893.

22. Library of Congress A.L.A. Catalog, 8,000 Titles for a Popular Library, With Notes Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904.

23. A.L.A. Catalog, 1904-1911, 1912, Chicago: American Library Association.

24. U.S. Navy. Bureau of Equipment Instructions for Use and Care of Libraries under the Bureau of Equipment. Washington:GPO,1897.

25. LaMontagne, Leo E. American Library Classification Hamden, CT: The Shoe String Press, 1961.

26. Chan, Lois Mai Cataloging and Classification : an Introduction New York: McGraw Hill, 1994.

27. Cooling, Benjamin Franklin USS Olympia: Herald of Empire Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000.

28. Miller, Edward S. War Plan Orange: the U.S. strategy to defeat Japan, 1897 1945 Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

29. Dewey, George. Autobiography of George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1987.

30. Fiske, Bradley A. From Midshipman to Rear Admiral New York: Century Co. 1919.

31. West, Charles I. The Cruise of the USS Enterprise Washington, DC (?) n.p., 1890(?) The Cruise of the USS Enterprise is a manuscript in the holdings of the Naval Historical Center, Washington, DC. "Cruise Books" are informal publications done by crew members (usually enlisted, occasionally by officers) describing their cruise. The Naval Historical Center has extensive holdings of these invaluable documents. The Enterprise was at sea for three years on the cruise in question. From internal evidence I think the book was actually written rather after the fact.