Hamilton Field Library Takes to the Skies

By Carol Acquaviva

Hamilton Army Air Force Librarian Mary Frances Marinan in 1943.

In December 1944, shelves at the library at Hamilton Field’s army air force base were more empty than usual. Librarian Mary Frances Marinan had arranged to lend books to a specialized group of army employees: Air Traffic Control (ATC) personnel — pilots, flight clerks, engineers and others who regularly left the base. Avionics system technology grew during World War II and with better instrumentation and controls, there was both a greater chance to pursue recreational and educational reading while on assignment, and long hours in flight and dates of waiting for a return trip. Marian thought that flight duty might be made more endurable with something good to read. But this meant that the library materials would travel far from Hamilton Field.

When a book was checked out, a note was made that the service member would be, for example, “out over the Pacific somewhere” when the item is due back, and the item was automatically renewed for them.

Image from guide: “Hamilton Air Force Base On Its 30th Anniversary, 1935–1965.” Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Books were often shuttled back and forth across the ocean by others than those who borrowed them. Marinan said, “One man will take out a couple of books, get to Saipan for instance and meet someone about to come back here. He’ll send his books back with that man, who meanwhile reads them, and keep the ones that the other man had. That way, each one reads twice as many books.”

From: “The Golden Side of the Golden Gate Salutes Hamilton Air Force Base, 1968–1969.” Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

The army flying personnel shuttled the books not only for themselves. Occasionally, a book borrowed from a public library in Honolulu would find its way back to Hamilton. Marinan would set the item aside until she knew of someone headed that way who might return the book to its own “home base.”

Marinan estimated that hundreds of readers utilized this service. “Say a pilot borrows a couple of books. Well the whole crew will read it before it’s brought back.” Occasionally a book belonging to Hamilton would be found on a beach in Hawaii or Fiji, and would make its return, sand and all.

Book collections were diverse: technical guides, novels, and college text books were all popular. Only a very few volumes were lost and had to be replaced, and Marinan figured out why. “The borrower knows he’s responsible for the books and takes special care of them,” she said in 1944. “Of those five [which have been replaced], the majority I think were left on purpose for the G.I.s out in the Islands. The borrower was perfectly willing to buy another book for the [Hamilton AFB] library, if someone who didn’t have access to the one he had wished to keep it.” Marinan continued:

As long as books are still being read by someone in the service, it’s OK with me that they do that.

Like most librarians, Mary Frances Marinan had a service-oriented career. Following her post at Hamilton, Marinan held the position of command librarian and service club director of the Fourth Air Force at San Francisco in 1942. Ten years later she became first command librarian of the 7th Air Division in London, which meant she supervised all of the libraries under the command in the United Kingdom. In addition to a similar assignment at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Marinan was named Air Force Librarian at Selfridge Air Force Base in Mt. Clemens, Michigan where she oversaw a 2,000-volume collection of technical and non-technical books, magazines and other publications. Although she wore a Special Services uniform and fulfilled training duty at Fort Douglas, Utah prior to her appointments, she held no rank and was considered a civilian employee.

Hamilton Base Library in the 1950s. From: Hamilton Air Force Base Directory and Guide. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

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Anne T. Kent California Room

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