"Wanted - A Book for Every Man Over There".
An interview with an overseas dispatch agent, by H.H. Moore, of the Outlook Staff.
Outlook, October 16, 1918, p250.

"WE have sent about seven hundred thousand books to our men overseas. We need a million more to supply every man with a good book to read in his leisure time."

The speaker s words were emphatic. Then, relaxing, with an engaging smile, he leaned back against the bar of his book saloon.

"Yes," he said, "I call this my book saloon. It is the fourth beer saloon we have taken over and devoted to a better business."

The place had indeed been a cheap liquor saloon, and the long, battered bar, with its well-worn foot-rail was still in evidence amid the piles of books. There had as yet no time to remove it. Why the American Library Association had chosen to house itself in these erstwhile saloons I did not particu1arly inquire, but rumor has it that Hoboken, New Jersey, the scene of these activities, has long been oversupplied with saloons, especially by the waterfront, and that military regulations forced some of them out of business, with resulting benefit to literature.

Here then, to these book saloons come from all over the United States books and magazines that are to go overseas to our soldiers and sailors. The scene is an interesting one. In one room porters were busily engaged in nailing up the boxes of books that are to entertain and instruct our men overseas.

"How do you get these books?" I asked.

"In two ways," answered my informant, who, let me say, was the Association's Despatch Agent, Mr. Asa Don Dickinson, well known as a librarian and an authority on matters connected with books. "We have a fund, or what is left of it, raised a year or so ago. With this we buy new books."

"What new book is the most popular among the soldiers?" I asked.

"This one" -- pointing to a small volume bound in boards. It was the "Non-Commissioned Officer's Manual," by Colonel James A. Moss. A great many ambitious men in the ranks, it was explained, went to this book for the information it gives about getting up higher.

"Doesn't the Government furnish the soldiers with any books about their duties?" I asked.

"No; the Government trains the men; it leaves them to get their own books," was the reply. "Other books in demand are helps toward learning French; manuals of instruction about machine gunnery; books about submarines, about automobiles, about electricity, and so on. Some of these are expensive, but we have to buy them."

"Do the publishers treat you fairly when you buy these books?"

"More than fairly. They sell them to us in most cases at cost. And the booksellers treat us fairly too."

"What dealings do you have with booksellers?"

"Well, that question brings me to our second source of supply. From all over the country we receive donations of old books. Most of our books come to us in this way. People 1eave their gifts at their local libraries, and they are forwarded to us free of freight. Then we have to sort them out. Some of the books are too bulky for circulation. These we dispose of to the booksellers and buy others. Then, again, we get some 'first editions.' It's a curious fact that there is a craze just now among collectors for first editions of O. Henry's stories. The other day I sold one of these books, that some one sent in, for thirty dollars! With that I could buy a whole lot of copies of the later editions of Henry's stories."

"What kind of books do our men want besides those you have named?" I asked.

"Good fiction -- stirring stories of adventure. They want to be amused. A certain proportion of the men are studious and want serious books, but the majority require amusing fiction that will take them out of their surroundings, especially when they are in hospitals. What kind of fiction? Well, there is a great demand for stories by Zane Grey, by Jack London, and by Rex Beach. Do we receive many of these? Yes; and most of the fiction sent is of the better class. You can look over a box and see for yourself."

I glanced over the titles of the top layer in a box. These boxes, by the way, are strong and well made, and so ingeniously constructed that after opening them they may be placed on end and used as a book shelf or shelves -- a sort of portable library. The titles I read were these:

Rupert of Hentzau, by Anthony Hope; The Last of the Mohicans, by Cooper; Tom Brown at Oxford, by Thomas Hughes; The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart; Black Rock, by Ralph Connor; The Inside of the Cup, by Winston Churchill; A Study in Scarlet, by Doyle; Four Millions, by O. Henry; The Way of a Man, by Hough; Going Some, by Rex Beach; Betrayal, by Oppenheim; His Grace of Osmonde, by Frances H. Burnett.

A pretty good selection, I thought.

"Western stories, detective stories, novels of adventure -- these are what we want, and we can't have too many of them. I could trade a lot of other books for the ones like these."

"What books would you trade?" I inquired.

"What book do you think comes to us in greatness number?" asked Mr. Dickinson in turn. "I defy you to guess."

"Robinson Crusoe" I hazarded.

"No. We get more copies of 'Lucile,' by Owen Meredith, than anything else. I send out some of them, but the soldiers appetite for that sort of thing is soon satisfied."


From the Bulletin of the American Library Association, volume XII (January-November 1918, pages 200-201.

by Asa Don Dickinson, A. L. A. Dispatch Agent, Hoboken, N. J.

Our days at the Hoboken Dispatch Office are full of Interest and Incident. Starting In January with one, we now occupy four of the pleasantest saloons in a town which has ever been famous both for barrooms and Germans. We are but one block back from the water front. The Leviathan docks Just around the corner. Dally an Intermittent stream of very sober looking soldiers passes our door. They are on the long trail which in another moment will bring their feet to the gangplank of a transport.

But we cannot afford to gaze long at the surroundings. The day's work at Hoboken means that 6,000 books must be sent overseas and this Involves a good deal of hard work. 6,000 a day means 750 an hour, twelve a minute, one every five seconds. If 6,000 books are to be dispatched dally, 6,000 must be received, acknowledged, unpacked and prepared for shipment dally. They come in lots of all sizes, from a single "Baedeker" up to 20,000 books at once. Ten per cent are purchased books, and these entail ordering and bill checking. They come in all sorts of ways: by quartermaster's freight, by freight prepaid, by freight collect, by express prepaid, by express collect, by parcel post, by moving-van, wagon or limousine, by lighter and by hand. They come with all sorts of addresses, they come in every possible sort of package—nearly 100 packages a day, which should all receive attention on the day of their arrival, for the next day will bring as many more. The books must all be carefully inspected of course, and a certain number of "unsuitables" will have to be disposed of. The very large majority of books which pass inspection must be roughly classified, and each must contain one bookplate, book-pocket, and book card bearing the author's surname and a brief title.

(Blessings on the librarian who sees that the books he sends us are carefully prepared for shipment. The shelf-list card is not required in our work. Cooperating friends, all please take notice if you would save useless labor.) After the books are made up into carefully proportioned little libraries of about seventy-five volumes each, they are packed in our regulation shipping bookcases. In each box are placed directions to the amateur librarians who are to care for the books overseas. And finally there is the sealing, stenciling and shipping of the boxes. Some are for use on the transports and later "over there"; some for cargo shipment as part of 50 tons a month asked for by General Pershing; some are for shipment to one or other of the Naval Bases; or to the Red Cross; or to some particular ship in local waters. About 80 boxes go out each day. Ninety-nine, 7,425 books, is the one-day record so far. Each should bear three pasted labels and on the average five stenclllngs. Our stencil library is surprisingly large. If a box is wrongly marked it will surely go astray. In the midst of the hurly-burly over there we cannot but fear it may do so any way.

Suppose we note the events of a busy hour or so at 119 Hudson street:

8:16 a.m.—The dispatch agent arrives, to find a truck waiting to be loaded for the piers. Porters and truckmen are enjoying a cozy social hour.

8:16—The dynamo begins to buzz, galvanizing porters and truckmen Into more or less strenuous action.

8:20—Morning mail arrives: 25 letters and 50 pounds of newspapers and periodicals.

8:25—Truck arrives with load of 50 cases of books received per quartermaster's freight—five lots in the load—two lots are "short" one case apiece.

8:30—Parcel post wagon arrives with 27 parcels: books from publishers, libraries and Individuals, and supplies from headquarters.

8:35—A limousine stops before the door and an early-rising Lady Bountiful enters bearing three Issues of the Saturday Evening Post, and one copy each of Owen Meredith's "Lucile," Irving's "Sketch-book," Mitchell's "Reveries of a bachelor," Drummond's "Natural law In the spiritual world," and "Mr. Britling." She naturally wishes to know all about how we send books to soldiers, and holds the dispatch agent in gracious social converse for seven precious minutes, till

8:42—An Irate policeman enters to say traffic on Hudson street is completely blocked by vehicles standing before our premises.

8:45—Loaded truck departs for the pier, and the traffic begins to trickle through the jam.

8:50—A big express wagon arrives to clog things up again, and at 8:50 comes a giant "seagoing" motor truck nine hours out from Philadelphia with 185 of our shipping bookcases.

8:51—Three newly hired porters take a good look at this load; then two of them remember that they have been drafted and must leave "for the front" at once; the third candidly states that the work is too hard for him.

8:52—Telephone bell rings: "One hundred eight boxes of books are lying on Pier 1. They have just come off a lighter from Cheyenne, Wyoming. They weigh about 300 pounds apiece. I suppose they belong to you folks. The major says to tell you they must be taken away before noon, or he will dispose of them as he sees fit."

8:53—Telegram from Washington headquarters: "Congratulations on your last weekly report. Kindly arrange to double your output next week and hereafter."

8:54—Wagon arrives with load of packing

8:56—Another telegram from Washington headquarters: "Use only our standard shipping bookcases. Discontinue at once all use of packing boxes."

8:56 — Telegram from manufacturer of standard shipping bookcases: "Can't get labor or lumber. Don't expect any more boxes for at least a week."

8:58—Distinguished librarian of leisurely habits and a fine conversational talent arrives to inspect our work.

9:00—Class of Y. M. C. A. transport secretaries arrives to receive instruction in the care and administration of our transport libraries.

9:10—Red Cross chaplain enters with an urgent demand for "Lady Audley's Secret." "There is a boy in St. Mary's hospital who must at once have that book and no other."

9:15—Read letter from headquarters: The gist is as follows: "Don't stick so close to your office. Get out, man, and cultivate diplomatic relations with admirals and major generals."

9:16—Wire from headquarters: "Please release your first assistant." (He had already gone to Boston to establish dispatch office there.)

9:20—Base hospital chaplain enters with a list of 450 titles. He tells us that he has selected them with great care, and hopes there need be no substitutions. They must be on board his ship at 9 a. m. tomorrow. She sails at noon. He doesn't know her name or number or whether she sails from New York, Brooklyn or Hoboken.

9:21—Quartermaster's truck arrives with load of Burleson magazines.

9:23—Three loud explosions in rapid succession on the water front. Many windows are broken by the concussion. All hands rush into the street. German woman from delicatessen shop next door, in hysterics, demands first aid treatment. She gets it—good old-fashioned cold water.

9:25—Moving van arrives with load of 8,000 loose, unsorted books, collected by the New York Public Library.

9:27—Secondhand packing box dealer arrives to take away old boxes, and dealer in old paper arrives for a load of discarded books.

9:28—Military authorities threaten drastic action if we continue to block traffic in Hudson street. A string of 75 quartermaster trucks is being held up.

9:29—Sell two copies of "The Four Million," first editions, to a book dealer for $60.00.

9:30—Long distance telephone from Washington headquarters: "Our representatives abroad report very few books arriving in France. Why is this?"

9:31—Director of Library War Service concludes an unobtrusive visit of inspection by saying a few kind words as to the progress we are making, and by advising us not to overwork.

9:32—The dispatch agent falls heavily to the floor. He has fainted.

Last revised: 26 August 2010