The Boat’s Library
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The Boat’s Library

One of the many nuisances of being the most junior officer aboard the boat was the assignment to run the boat's library. We didn't have room for a library on our old diesel submarine, even before the deskbound planners stuffed our boat full of new, extra equipment and extra sailors to run it. But there was an office ashore, somewhere in the bureaucracy, that mailed each ship a box of new books each month, to be put into our libraries.

The library aboard the USS Hornet was impressive, as I remember it. The Hornet was an aircraft carrier left over from World War II. There were 5,000 people aboard the Hornet when I went to sea in her for training in 1966, and the Hornet’s library saw a lot of action. It was a little crowded in the stacks, but it was a fun place to browse for entertaining reading. You could check out a book there, just like in a public library ashore.

When the shipment of library books arrived at our submarine, however, there was no such place to shelve the books. Each month we got perhaps a half-dozen hardcover books and two dozen paperbacks. When the box arrived, I opened it and I carefully filled out the paperwork that was to be returned. Also included in the shipment were two cards for each book, to be placed into a card catalog. These I carefully threw away.

The first step in distributing the books was to place the open box in the skipper's stateroom along with a note that it would be retrieved at a certain time. The skipper got first choice of books to read. When he finished reading one, he put it in the wardroom bookshelf for the other officers. The exec got second choice. Then the box was placed in the wardroom for the officers to take their picks.

Finally, the box was taken to the crew's mess, and the paperback books disappeared in a couple of minutes. Sailors read a lot. But they never took the hardcover books. It was one of the unwritten rules of our boat. The enlisted men never read hardcover books. When the officers finished reading the hardcover books we gave them to some charity ashore.

The paperback books were passed from hand to hand among the crew, probably in some form of barter. Eventually the paperbacks all disappeared. The books served a very useful function in keeping the crew entertained and silent. It was quite illegal to just give the books away as we did. We never felt any qualms about it, though, because our only other option was to refuse the library shipment each month. Our sailors, and the Navy, benefited from our handing those books out each month.

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