Saturday, January 01, 2011
Libraries...a little history
Picked up this interesting post to publib from Sara Weissman of the Morris County Library. Thanks, Sara!
Public Card Catalogs
You know you've been a long time in libraries when:
-your childhood catalog was index cards written in copperplate hand, with
steel nib pens and ink wells. Colored stars--red, gold, silver,
green--indicated collection level (Juv, Ref, Adult, etc.) Typewriters
were considered shocking modern technology (far too noisy to disrupt the
silence of the library).
Your tech services course in "book school" prepared you to type catalog
cards (five rows down, seven spaces over for first entry). Carlyle Frarey
taught the class.
Your paraprofessional job was checking the above-the-rod filing of the
student employees. Something very satisfying about pulling the rod and
dropping/patting those cards into place?!
Your first professional position included filing new cards when subject
headings changed, as Rumania to Romania, among others.
Many (most?) of our patrons would be delighted to have card catalogs--the
visual, tactile experience--back again. There was something about the snap
of the card corner under your finger ... They'd just miss the online
renewals and holds!
The picture is of a small New England town library, run
in the 1950s by "Miss Emily" and "Miss Susan", neither of whom were
librarians. Maiden sisters, they lived across the street and the library
was open when they felt like it. Often not when it rained, but always when
it snowed. Their sister-in-law was Chairman of the Board of Trustees until
she was 100 yrs old and had to argue down the younger trustees (those in
their 50s), who didn't want audiobooks. "You young people!" Harriet Haynes
snapped "don't understand that your elders can't read the way they used
The only sounds you heard in Miss Emily's library were the tick, tick,
tick of the grandfather clock and the muffled "thump" of a stamp quietly
plonking a return date on a book being checked out. In the 1970s, when a
professional librarian was finally in charge, a roof leak required
checking the cupola of the building where were found, in their original
brown shipping wrappers, the volumes of the official history of the Civil
War, authorized by Congress in 1866. A set had been sent to each town that
had a significant number of veterans who served. The town Civil War
obelisque is just outside the library door.
The Board of Trustees, over some strenuous objections, opted for the future
over the past and sold the set to help raise money for the first-ever
addition to the library, completed in the late 1980s.
I became a librarian because in this my childhood library reading was
reverenced and "nerdy" was very, very cool.