On 29 May 1920, the SS Aeneas sailed for Australia with a library of 150 books on board. This was as a partnership between the pioneer of seafarer education, Albert Mansbridge of the newly established Seafarer Education Service and enlightened Liverpool ship-owner, Lawrence Holt of Alfred Holt and Company’s Blue Funnel Line.
Libraries on ships were not necessarily new and had been present on passenger ships since the late 18th century. But this was a bold move to improve the welfare of seafarers by the man who lay the foundations of what would become the educational arm of the Marine Society.
In was a great success and natural history titles proved to be very popular. On the following voyage the number of books had increased to 200 and loans exceeded 1,000. Within 10 years the provision of libraries had become universal within the British Merchant fleet with four hundred carrying SES libraries. By the 1960s this number had increased to 600 ships.
The service continues today, 100 years later albeit in smaller numbers. Marine Society loan libraries still exist on National Oceanography and British Antarctic Survey ships but the majority of fleets have switched to non-returnable paperbacks and the newly launched digital library app.
The Marine Society digital library app is definitely the future for onboard libraries as seafarers can now download books to read on their phones or tablets. They can access thousands of books in the language of their choice to enjoy at leisure. After 100 years the Marine Society is still at the forefront of supplying libraries to ships.