Operation Book Redux: 67 years after the great book move of 1953

operation books, 1953, library
Operation Books Redux

It was certainly a different time, muses Jody Thompson, head of the Archives and Special Collections department and the Library’s preservation manager. One in which then Dean of Men, George C. Griffin, could remand the entire freshman class of 1953 to a single service project.

“This was such an interesting story in the archives, so indicative of college culture at the time” she said. “It’s just charming and kind of quirky – exactly the type of thing we love about Georgia Tech history.”

Operation Books, as it was known, has all the classic elements you want – rowdy students getting in *just* a little bit of trouble, the campus community coming together with a can-do attitude, and a little color to add to the history of a beloved Georgia Tech mainstay.

And it’s coming back to campus Oct. 29 at noon in the courtyard of the Georgia Tech Library, between Price Gilbert and Crosland Tower, to celebrate books being back in the Library.

Operation Books

It was Thursday, Oct. 29, 1953. Hundreds of freshmen collected, milling about Cherry Street on a sunny late October morning with coffee in hand. They stood in line a quarter mile-long, ready to pass 150,000 books from the Carnegie Building, Tech’s original library, to the newly constructed Price Gilbert Memorial Library. It was a punishment for what the Georgia Tech Alumnus described as “pranks” during a “hyper vitiminized” pep rally after the game against Tulane.

The “shirt-tail parade,” as it was known, got so out of hand there was collateral damage to passers-by caught in the melee.

According to the Oct. 14, 1953 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “Freshmen took up a collection to pay hospital expenses of a downtown theater concessions operator who was hospitalized for hysteria after rampaging students invaded the theater.”

Using a plan developed by older Industrial Engineering students utilizing a “human chain,” the books began to move. Slowly at first, because Tech’s librarians were quite protective of the materials and training each new shift took precious time. Then human nature began to take over. There were grumbles about the plan; some broke rank in open defiance.

The plan was scrapped on the fly. A new ad hoc model was attempted. It, too, failed. Soon, plans were made to return to the original human chain option and things began to pick up again.

“It turned into a really interesting practical application of engineering to solve a real world problem,” said Alumni Historian Jennifer Rogers.

All told, students fell short of their lofty 150,000-title goal. Final totals of books moved were somewhere around the 55,000 to 75,000 mark. That left the rest of the collection to be moved over the weekend by Georgia Tech faculty and staff, who came in to make sure the job was done. The new library opened Monday, Nov. 2.

The Institute saved an estimated $5,000 from the effort, a little over $51,000 in today’s dollars. And according to the first-hand accounts of Operation Books – including the Technique,  Georgia Tech Alumnus and Atlanta Journal Constitution – the hubbub took weeks to die down on campus.

And there the books stayed … until 1968, when the Graduate Addition, now known as Crosland Tower, sprang from atop Freshman Hill to hold the exploding print collection. Nearly 50 years later, in 2016, all print materials moved into cold storage for renovation and reimagining of both Library buildings.

Operation Books Redux

Now, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, 67 years to the day of the first Operation Books, the Library is celebrating the core collection, about 30,000 books representing each school’s most required manuscripts, moving back into the building.

This event, held in conjunction with the Georgia Tech Alumni Association and using resources furnished exclusively by the Georgia Tech Archives, will include a brief history of the original book passing from the Carnegie Building to Price Gilbert from Rogers (HTS 07, MS HSTS 09), Alumni historian. It starts at noon and includes the Reck, Buzz and members of the band providing fanfare for the ceremony.

After remarks, feel free to join into the human chain placing the last 53 books back on the shelves of Price Gilbert for the Core Collection.