After writing about the Bookboats and how the Thomas Crosby V used to bring us books to read from their onboard library, I was reminded of the libraries on each lighthouse I worked on. Each keeper that worked the island would leave a few books behind, mostly pocketbooks, and they would take with them new ones from our library.
On McInnes Island lighthouse we had a library of a few hundred pocket books of all sorts. Sometimes, when we got desperate for new reading material we boxed up a bunch of books and sent them off to another lighthouse in return for a box of theirs. We also traded off magazines and newspapers whenever a helicopter came by.
Fishermen who overnighted near the island used to come ashore for reading material and bring us a fish or two in return for garden vegetables and the inevitable books and magazines to read while waiting for the next tide to fish..
At one time, in the early 1980s we did have books from the Prince Rupert Public Library.1 This was a delight! We used to write the library a note to enclose in the box of returned books, and let them know what books we each would like to see, or type of book we liked to read. Each person on the station, including the children, enclosed a note to the book librarians about their personal choices.
Each month we would wait anxiously, hoping that the long-waited-for book would arrive with the mail and groceries. Besides the mail, the books were one of the treasures we enjoyed. In those days, a lot of our supplies came monthly by ship. As the Coast Guard slowly changed over to helicopter deliveries, the book boxes were dropped aside. Finally, the Coast Guard said it was too much weight, and the Library said it was getting too expensive. These books came packed in cardboard boxes – a box, or sometimes two, for each lightstation. We sure missed them when the service stopped as we had no television and not much radio, except in the evening.
Reminiscing on this delight, I came across the website of a retired librarian, Larry T. Nix. He has a delightful blog on “Lighthouse Libraries” which he said I could copy here. Instead, I borrowed a photo of one of his US Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE)2 book boxes which you can see on the left. It was a real library in a box! Read more on this wonderful service here on Larry’s Library History Buff Blog.
There you can also see a photo of the early USLHE bookplate labels which were placed in the books.
1 The Prince Rupert Public Library still maintains a wonderful service to the people of Prince Rupert and also to people on the Internet. For British Columbians and Canadians the library has a most extensive reference online. This is sorted by Subject or Database. If you have a question, I think you will find it answered in the databases.
2 A predecessor to the U. S. Lighthouse Service and the U.S. Coast Guard – Library History Buff Blog