The circulating library played an important role in the daily lives and treatment of Saint Elizabeths’ patients. By 1913, the library’s collection included around six thousand books. Almost ten years later, in 1924, this amount doubled in size, and the library housed about twelve thousand volumes. Patients allowed to independently walk around the hospital grounds often visited the library; however, those confined to the facilities were still able to request books from catalogs given to each ward. Nurses, or other hospital staff, would pick up and deliver any requests to their patients. For the patients able to visit the library themselves,s the reading room was open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day of the week, except Sundays.
The most popular books used by patients were dictionaries, the bible, and volumes about arithmetics. Bibles were donated to the hospital in abundance, but keeping them on the shelf was difficult. Many of them tended to disappear and were usually not brought back. In 1928, the Washington Post reviewed the library at Saint Elizabeths, describing it as a library that could be found in any neighborhood; however, patients at the hospital usually requested more subjects about philosophy, mathematics, biographies, and astronomy. The hospital staff also had access to a library of their own, which included five thousand books, four thousand pamphlets, and publications from over seventy-five magazine subscriptions.
The patients’ library would later move to The Rest from the administrative wing in the Center Building in 1929. Because the design of The Rest building included many windows, the Circulating Library benefited from an abundance of natural light. The reading room and collections were found on the first floor.
This is a stop on the virtual tour of St. Elizabeths Hospital.