"I wish Secretary Bennett needed a book," an employe of the Department of Education's library said recently with a wistful sigh.

If he decided to go searching for it, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett would have to look among thousands of cardboard crates piled at the Department of Transportation, where some of the library's 300,000 to 400,000 volumes are stored while its new quarters are being built.

If Bennett's book was not among those, he would have to try a warehouse in Newington, Va., where books that could not be safely crammed into the space at DOT were stashed at the last minute.

The library, part of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at the Education Department, has been in storage since Sunday, June 15. A judge had ordered it out of its three-year home at 1200 19th St. NW by the following day -- a year and two months after its lease expired.

The owner of that building, London Leeds Corp., was eager to remodel it and refused to renew the General Services Administration lease that expired in April 1985. But the GSA postponed the move as long as possible while struggling to find 100,000 square feet of space for the OERI and its library.

London Leeds Corp. has taken the GSA to claims court for damages resulting from the delayed move. The case is pending.

The library moved out only two days before demolition crews began work to remodel its old building. Since the building chosen as the library's new home was still a shell until two weeks ago, the library will be in storage for about two months, according to Rodgers Stewart, acting director of the Real Estate Division for GSA's National Capital Region.

Meanwhile, library employes are working without the books, and some were briefly put on paid leave.

Bill Smith, director of Administrative Resource Management Services at the Education Department, said the library move has been well handled. "The only real problem we're facing at this point is furniture and books," he said. "But the people are housed." The storage in Newington will cost $4,000, according to Stewart.

The OERI library is a major collection of education-related works used by the department, Congress, teachers, students, lawyers and the general public. It includes a large collection of rare and old textbooks, historical and children's book collections, and a special collection of education publications, called the Education Resources Information Center. The library received about 9,000 reference inquiries in fiscal 1985.

The library's new quarters, eventually chosen at 555 New Jersey Ave., should be finished by the end of July, according to Stewart, and should have a "grand opening" in August. Library employes said they were skeptical that the construction and reassembly of the library could be finished that soon.

Most of the library staff is now housed in plush offices on the fifth floor of another building in the same New Jersey Avenue complex. One staff member said, treading gently on the new carpeting of her temporary quarters, "This is the nicest office I've had during all my time in government."

The Education Department's Office of Grants and Contracts, which also moved from 1200 19th St., has not been so lucky. Its members are sharing quarters with the books at the Transportation Department. One of them called the place "a glorified warehouse."

While the library remains in storage, people making inquiries are told to use the Library of Congress. If the secretary needs a book, he'll have to look for it there.