Monday, February 29, 2016

Today's little free libraries are a landlocked descendent of the traveling lighthouse book cases.

There were at least 420 libraries circulating for lighthouses in the United States by 1885, which might have rivaled the readership for most other citizens. Waterway writes that, “In the late 1800s, there were more lighthouses than libraries in America, thus giving an assist to educating lighthouse books.”

The library boxes were made from thick, heavy wood, and needed to do double-duty as carrying cases and bookshelves. “Let it be shut, locked, and laid on its back, and it is a brass- bound packing-case, with hinged handles by which it may be lifted; stand it on a table and open its doors, and it becomes a neat little book case,” Johnson writes. A library box could hold 50 to 60 books.

The contents of the libraries themselves seem to be as varied as their locations. The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy website gives an example of its own portable lighthouse library, with books marked ‘Property of the Lighthouse Establishment.’ Works of fiction were the focus there, including James Lamont’s Seasons with the Sea-horses; Or, Sporting Adventures in the Northern Seas, and part of a series of six Swedish romance novels called The Surgeon’s Stories–Times of Charles XII.

Inside a library salvaged from a schooner which sank off Martha’s Vineyard in 1919, books range from Moody’s Anecdotes to The Best of a Bad Job by Norman Duncan, and a nonfiction book about radio transmissions called The Wireless Man, to a mysterious medieval German title. There’s also a Bible and a hymn book linked to the Seaman’s Bethel, a religious group for those who lived at sea. “The Seamen’s Bethel- their job was religion, and administering to sailors. I’m sure that the books were carefully chosen to be wholesome,” says Stacy.

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