Navy Department Library Information


 Subjects Emphasized

 Special & Rare Collections


Circulation & Reference Policies

 Hours of Operation


The Navy Department Library, founded in 1800 by the executive order of President John Adams, promotes the operational effectiveness of the United States 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 Navy Department Library enhances and enriches the understanding of naval and maritime history, customs, and traditions.

Library History

The Navy Department 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.

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.

Individual highlights of the collection include the US Navy's first signal book, Thomas Truxtun's Instructions, Signals and Explanations... (1797); David Porter's signal book (1809); rare Confederate and Union signal books; calling cards collected by John Paul Jones in Russia; hundreds of unpublished World War II administrative and cryptological histories; translations of war diaries from various German Navy headquarters; material captured on the German submarine U-505 in 1944; and a collection of ship half-hull models.

For further information see "History of the Navy Department Library" which contains links to online manuscripts and published sources about the library.

Subjects Emphasized

  • 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

Special and Rare Collections


Circulation Policy

Personnel stationed or employed on the Washington Navy Yard may borrow materials for one month. The Library participates in interlibrary loan.

Rare, Special Collection, and Reference books, as well as bound periodicals do not circulate. The Library reserves the right to refuse to circulate or permit the reproduction of any items considered unique or fragile. Items over 100 years old are not available for interlibrary loan. Faxed requests for interlibrary loan are not accepted.

Reference Assistance and Policy

The Library provides limited telephone, in person and written reference assistance. Detailed questions requiring in-depth research must be conducted in person at the library or by employing a commercial research service. Typically, the staff will suggest possible sources of information, such as a book or archival facility, to assist patrons in conducting their own research. A careful examination of the NHHC's Frequently Asked Questions will provide answers to many questions.

Simple questions such as "When was USS America (CV-66) commissioned?" or "Who was the Secretary of the Navy in 1938?" can sometimes be answered via telephone.

Hours of Operation

Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

No reference assistance is available on Wednesdays.