The A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post 26 posts, one for each letter of the English alphabet, in April. Most of us choose to make these posts on a particular theme. My theme for 2023 is 1943 Washington D.C., the setting of the novel that I’m writing. Visit daily in April for a new post on my topic.
L is for Libraries
The Central Public Library, a Carnegie-funded building, served as the main library for the DC system for 70 years, including 1943. It’s now a very grand looking Apple store that also houses the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
In January 1943, the Central Public Library at Eighth and K Streets Northwest, opened two new divisions — the Work Interests Room for self-improvement books for employees and the Home Interests Room with periodicals about home life. These rooms were open from 9am to 9pm on weekdays and 2pm to 6pm on Sundays. If you were one of tens of thousands of women working for the government, known as Government Girls, you might be dismayed by this quote from one of the speakers, Mrs. Eugene Meyer of the Civil Service Commission:
A woman’s first duty is the guidance of her children in this period of great stress, then the management of her budget in an economical way, and the preparation of food with emphasis upon nutritional values.
Many Government Girls, working their first jobs away from home, would have been better aided by the Work Interests Room.
D.C. library opens home interests room and work interests section at exercises. (1943, Jan 22). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/d-c-library-opens-home-interests-room-work/docview/151643197/se-2
The basement of the Central Library building was a designated air raid shelter. Librarians reported that new patrons discovered the library during every test. Since the music collection was stored in the basement, library staff kept the public entertained for the duration of the air raid test by playing records.
Air raid tests help library. (1943, Jun 28). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/air-raid-tests-help-library/docview/151654365/se-2
The Central Library had open stacks for fiction — meaning that borrowers could select books from shelves without assistance. Most other books were in closed stacks. To request a book, you filled out a call slip and a library worker fetched it for you. During World War II, foreign language books were extremely popular among uniformed women. The WAACS, WAVES, and other service members were so respected by library staff that they were often allowed into the closed stacks to pick out their own books.
Lady warriors go in heavily for foreign-language books. (1943, Jul 12). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/lady-warriors-go-heavily-foreign-language-books/docview/151673272/se-2
Central Public Library and various library branches also hosted music performances, art exhibits, and club meetings throughout 1943.
Fuel rationing required the Southwestern Branch Public Library to cancel their victrola concerts. Southwest was a new library branch at that time — it opened in 1941 as a wing of the newly constructed Jefferson Junior High School. This library branch moved into a standalone building in 1961.
News notes of musicians and concerts. (1943, Feb 07). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/news-notes-musicians-concerts/docview/151641674/se-2
If you had questions about rations — that was a complicated system — several branches of the DC Public Library housed local rationing boards.
Rationing made easy. (1943, Jan 09). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/rationing-made-easy/docview/151631001/se-2
Libraries serve many of the same purposes in the present day. Do you use your public library in some of the same ways that Washington residents of 1943 used theirs?