The news that the University Library is contributing to the programme to help restock the ransacked Library of the University of Mosul confirms the longstanding tradition of cooperation amongst libraries in times of crisis. By coincidence, an earlier example of this recently came to light in the Library’s accessions registers, where amongst the usual entries of ‘lost’ and ‘withdrawn’ some notes were found which recorded the transfer of books to other libraries. In this case the libraries were Plymouth Public Library and Birkbeck College Library and the dates were 1941 and 1942.
It is clear from this, that in addition to the many other ways in which University College, Southampton supported the war effort, it also played its part in helping to restock libraries devastated by enemy action during the Second World War. Plymouth Public Library had been destroyed in March 1941 with the loss of over 72,000 books and Birkbeck Library had suffered a direct hit. With many other libraries suffering the same fate, appeals were made for books to restock those most severely damaged.
The notes in the accessions registers suggest that transferring the books was also advantageous to the Library, enabling it to remove duplicates and free up space – sufficient space being the often unachievable ambition of most librarians. Library Annual Reports confirm that an overhaul of stock had begun in 1940/41 and in response to an appeal from the Universities Bureau of the British Empire, a list of 400 duplicates had already been offered to University College, London, which had lost 100,000 books as a result of fire and water damage following air raids.
The Annual Reports also record the involvement of Library staff in another wartime initiative, the National Book Recovery Appeal which began in 1943. The Appeal had developed from concerns that important books and documents might be destroyed as a result of the Ministry of Supply’s paper salvage campaign which was designed to alleviate the paper shortage caused by the cessation of imports. A Central Committee of Scrutiny was set up to oversee the process and local committees were established to run the ‘Book Drives’. Miss M.I. Henderson, the Librarian of University College, Southampton was appointed as one of the members of Southampton’s Scrutiny Committee and also assisted the New Forest’s Salvage Committee.
Southampton’s first Book Drive ran from 6th-20th February 1943, with others being held in Winchester, Basingstoke, Portsmouth and Fareham. Book collection points were established in schools and shops with a central depot at Albion Hall, St Mary’s Street. Books brought in were to be sorted into those suitable for restocking devastated libraries, books for H.M. Forces and those which could be pulped without any loss to scholarship and society. Southampton’s Book Drive yielded over 160,000 books, which took about three weeks to sort. Of these, 3,188 were sent to the Inter-Allied Book Centre for restocking libraries, 16,581 were sent to H.M. Forces, for both recreation and instruction and 141,731 were pulped.
As an incentive to libraries to get involved in Book Drives, up to 5% of the total number of books collected could be retained locally and the accessions registers reveal that a number of books did make their way into the University Library’s collections. Amongst these was an 1817 edition of John Britton’s The History and Antiquities of the See and Cathedral Church of Winchester, which was added to the Cope Collection, as was C.R. Acton’s Sport and Sportsmen of the New Forest, which still bears a bookplate recording its presentation by Lyndhurst Salvage Committee in August 1943.