Navy Department Library

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The library's logo, originally a 1906 bookplate[1]

The Navy Department Library is the official library of the United States Department of the Navy. Located at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., it is part of the Naval History & Heritage Command, and is a Federal Depository Library. Its 150,000 volumes are the most highly concentrated and accessible collection of literature on the United States Navy. The library traces its roots to a nineteenth-century letter from U.S. President John Adams; its catalog is online.[2]

The library's mission is to promote the operational effectiveness of the U.S. Navy through the support of strategic planning, the education of naval personnel and the nation, and the inculcation of pride in the heritage of the naval service. By acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access, through reference services and Internet outreach, to pertinent books, manuscripts, and other textual sources, the library enhances and enriches the understanding of naval and maritime history, customs, and traditions.[2]


The Library traces its roots to a letter dated 31 March 1800 from President John Adams to Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert directing him to establish a library that would contain "the best writing...on the theory and practice of naval architecture, navigation, gunnery...." From that beginning, the Library's collections have grown to 170,934 books, 343,799 manuscripts, as well as thousands of periodicals and government documents, with an emphasis on naval, military, and nautical history including foreign navies. The Library is home to the most comprehensive collection of historical literature on the United States Navy.[2]

One of the few major military historical libraries open to the public, the library serves an international audience. It provides resources vital to the writing and publishing of naval history, as well as information relating to the needs of today's US Navy. The Navy Department Library joined the Federal Depository Library Program in 1895. The library's older holdings are included in the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints, a set of 754 volumes, compiled from 1968 to 1981. The library uses the Library of Congress Classification system, and employs OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) services to assist in cataloging and interlibrary loan. The publicly accessible interface to OCLC is Worldcat, which allows researchers to search for items and determine which libraries, including the Navy Department Library, they are located in. The Library's catalog is online.[2]

Individual highlights of the collection include the US Navy's first signal book, Thomas Truxtun's Instructions, Signals and Explanations... (1797); rare Confederate and Union signal books; hundreds of unpublished World War II administrative and cryptological histories; translations of war diaries from various German Navy headquarters; and a collection of ship half-hull models.[2] The library has significant information about the Spanish–American War.[3]

The design and symbolism of the library's logo represent the Navy's relationship to the country and to the sea. The eagle represents the United States; the anchor, the navy; the shell, the oceans; the USS Constitution, U.S. naval victories. The logo began as a 1906 bookplate designed in the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office.[1]

Subjects emphasized[edit]

The library's collections emphasize the following subjects:[2]

  • Naval, maritime, and military history
  • Naval architecture and shipbuilding
  • Naval customs and traditions
  • Naval doctrine
  • Naval ordnance
  • Naval shore and fleet activities
  • Naval uniforms, insignia, and awards
  • Navigation, voyages, and exploration

The library's rare book room, a climate-controlled vault being renovated in 2013-2014, contains books written before 1600, and many more recent items such as John Paul Jones' calling card collection from when he was with the Russian navy, and documents captured on German submarine U-505 when Daniel V. Gallery boarded it in 1944.[4] Another item is Captain John Smith’s treatise on the duties of sailing men, called An Accidence or Path-way to Experience. Smith, the governor of Virginia who married the Indian princess Pocahontas, wrote this precursor to The Bluejacket's Manual in 1626.[5]


  1. ^ a b Hort, Jean (2002). "The Cover" (PDF). Libraries & Culture. 37 (2): 175. Retrieved 2014-02-27. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "About the Library". The Navy Department Library website. Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  3. ^ Cornwall, Daniel (2003-12-26). "Spanish American War (Navy Department Library)". Writer's Guide to Government Information. Retrieved 2014-02-27. 
  4. ^ Comerford, Tim (2013-11-26). "Navy Department Library Looks to Future-Proof Unique Historical Documents". America's Navy. Retrieved 2014-02-27. 
  5. ^ Whittaker, Walton. "By the Books: At the Navy Yard, Rare Jewels Between the Covers". Retrieved 2016-06-29. 

External links[edit]