Part XII
Navy Records and [Navy Department] Library (E Branch)

Appendix E
Scope, Facilities and Size of the Library of the U.S. Navy Department,
In the Office of Naval Records and Library

The Navy Department Library was established by Act of Congress in 1882 under the direction of the Bureau of Navigation in which it was closely allied with the then new Office of Intelligence. In 1889 the Library was transferred to the Secretary of the Navy whose office retained jurisdiction over it for thirty years. In 1919 by general order, the Library was restored to the Intelligence Section in the Office of Naval Operations where it has since remained.

To the time of Pearl Harbor in 1941 from the date of its establishment, the collections in the Navy Department Library have developed from a few hundred volumes to the number of about 89,484 and 182 periodicals. In addition, there were collections of approximately 40,588 photographs, and 1,037 charts and maps, and also 5,000 pamphlets. Nearly two million manuscript records dating form before the organization of the Navy Department in 1798 through World War I were located in the official archives cared for by this office. Commodore D.W. Knox (retired) has been the Officer-in-Charge since August 1921.

The Library is maintained principally for the use of the Navy Department and other government agencies, as well as for writers and researchers in naval history, naval technical, and professional questions. Under necessary restrictions the library and bibliographic services were available for the use of college and research students. Authority has been granted


by Public Document No. 12 -- 75th Congress to the Secretary of the Navy to accept gifts and bequests for the benefit of the Office of Naval Records and Library.

The Office of Naval Records and Library was located in the Navy Department on Constitution Avenue at 18th Street. The Office was the main library for the Navy Department and comprised a manuscript division which had on file naval records dating from the Revolutionary War through the [First] World War, and a photographic division. The library shelved 89,484 books and approximately 5,000 pamphlets.

The collection embraces the following subjects:

Fine Arts
Military Science
            Naval Science
Reference Books
Naval and Military History

Rare Book Section. There are 3,752 books in the rare collection, many of early dates. They are printed in the following languages: English, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Dutch, Persian, German, Spanish, Japanese and Swedish.

The main subjects covered in the collection are: Biography, Piracy, History--general, Engineering, Military and Naval law, Navigation, Naval Ordnance, Naval Strategy and Tactics, Merchant Marine, Voyages, Shipwrecks, Naval and Military History and Scientific Expeditions.

Engineering. The Engineering Section contains 2,061 volumes which are divided under the main headings of Aeronautics, Civil Engineering,


Canals, Waterways, Electrical Engineering, Refrigeration, Mechanical Engineering, Hydraulic, Sanitary, Marine, Steam, Mining and Military Engineering.

The group contains surveys of the Nicaraguan Canal routes, the Isthmus of Darien, the Isthmus of Tehauntepec and the Panama Canal. The material on salvaging while not extensive is of authoritative value. Marine Engineering is a strong section containing copies of all text books used by the Navy.

Naval and Military History. The Navy Department Library has 3,849 volumes of naval and military history, which embrace all countries. Special emphasis has been placed on volumes dealing with American history. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War [I] are well covered. The [First] World War section contains 1,519 volumes. Naval official histories of all countries participating are in the [First] World War collection, as well as the British Official Military History. Pictorial histories of all wars are well represented in the collection and these are supplemented by an excellent file of photographic reproductions in the Photographic Division of this office.

Biography. The subject of biography is classified in three main division; Naval, Military and Civil, with special emphasis on naval biography. There are 3,455 volumes in the whole collection, which embraces all countries. The naval section, comprising 870 volumes, is strongest in American, English and French biographical material. There are available in this group 47 items on the life of John Paul Jones.

Law. About 5,948 volumes are classified in this section, which is mainly composed of the following subdivisions; International Law, Maritime


Law, Prize Law, Neutrality, International Relations and Naval and Military Trials. All standard works on international law may be found, as well as a complete set of the publications of the Naval War College entitled "International Law Situations." Treaties and conventions are well represented. Complete sets of Foreign Relations of the United States and British State Papers are available in the International Relations group. The section treating with naval and military trials is small but contains several outstanding volumes as the "Somers Mutiny," "Trial of Commodore James Barron," "The Schley Court of Inquiry," and the "Inquiry on the Loss of the U.S.S. Jeannette."

Naval Science. There are 5,783 volumes treating with naval science in the Library. The main divisions in this group are Naval Architecture, Navigation, Signals, Strategy and Tactics. The section on naval architecture shelves 571 volumes, principally of the history of naval architecture. In the section treating with naval strategy and tactics, which comprises 555 volumes, a complete set of the writings of Admiral Mahan are available.

The history of navigation is well covered by 1,020 volumes which includes a complete set of Bowditch's Practical Navigator, pilots and port directories for all areas. The subject of seamanship is well covered by American and English authorities.

The Naval Ordnance Group is comprised of 840 volumes by American, English, French and German authors, and covers the history of naval ordnance from earliest times.

The Naval Science group also includes general information on the navies of the principal powers and is covered by a group of 542 volumes with special emphasis on the navies of the United States and Great Britain.


The pamphlet file of the Navy Department Library contains 5,000 pamphlets; 1,792 of which are applicable to national defense. The main subject headings of this file are:

Accidents to ships
Army, U.S.
Biographies, naval
Coast Guard
Discipline, organization
Education, military & naval
Foreign policies of U.S.
Foreign relations
Foreign service
Freedom of the seas
German Navy
Industrial mobilization
Insular America
International Hydrographic Bureau
International Law
Italy (foreign policy)
Jutland, Battle of
Marine Corps, U.S.
Merchant Marine
Military Science
Monroe Doctrine
Navies, various--strength
Navy, Great Britain
Nicaraguan Canal
Naval Academy, U.S.
Naval Policy, U.S.
Naval Reserve, U.S.
Naval War College
Navy, U.S.
Navy Department, U.S.
Navy Yards
Pacifists, Pacifism
Panama Canal
Personnel, U.S. Navy
Puerto Rico
Press Releases, State Dept.
Russia, Soviet
Safety of life at sea
Salvage operations
Sea power
Ships, various
Ships, U.S. Navy (Histories)
Ships, foreign
South America
Spratly Island
State Department Bulletins
Strategy and tactics
Virgin Islands
Washington, D.C.
West Indies
World War [I]


The Navy Department Library's lawful mission to serve as the Departmental Library was considerably hampered after the proclamation of a state of national emergency, by space limitations in the main Navy Building, which necessitated three major moves to new locations, and the scattering of books and manuscripts between the National Archives, Library of Congress and the Arlington Annex.

Despite these handicaps the Library continued to perform its function as the general reference library of the Department and its facilities were especially valuable to CominCh and CNO offices in planning and furnishing information during the war.

Meanwhile physical expansion and scattering of the various bureaus and offices resulted in many of these latter offices building up their individual libraries. The decentralization was neither as deplorable or inefficient as feared inasmuch as the main Navy Library continued to be the central reference Library while the "branch" libraries were for the most part sources of "technical" rather than general reference for their respective bureaus. A description of the scope and size of a few of these branch libraries follows:



Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation