Seafaring libraries

At sea for ten months. What would you take on your Kindle?

Sailors in the 1800s, of course, had no such luxury.

The American Seamen’s Friend Society, starting in 1837, took it upon itself to package up book collections and ship them out on as many sailing vessels as possible. By 1930, they had distributed 30,040 libraries, which could be exchanged for a new set when the content was exhausted. Each library contained about 40 books, mostly religious or focused on self improvement.

Sailors wrote back with reports on the libraries they received. Here is one example:

“No. 3,095. — Books all read; ‘Four Pillars of Temperance,’ ‘Laurence Monroe,’ ‘Light on the Ocean,’ ‘Blind Tom,’ and ‘Alcohol’ were most read. The last named book I read aloud to the crew, with delightful results. All signed the pledge. The books have been a great blessing; better send ‘Alcohol’ in every library. It is just the thing for sailors.” — A. Morrill, Capt. schr. W.H.Rogers.

Because they were commonly provided in a standard wooden box, painted red, the libraries came to be known as “Little Red Box Libraries.” One has to wonder if there is any connection to today’s DVD provider, Redbox. I wasn’t able to dig up any details on how the company selected its name to find out. I wonder!

Post a Comment

I knew this already. I learned something new!