Friday, June 24, 2016

Library Handwriting

Early Harvard College Library catalog card
Catalog card from a small Wisconsin public library
Last year OCLC, the global library cooperative that operates the world’s largest online union library catalog, announced that it was discontinuing its service of providing printed catalog cards to libraries.  This follows decades of libraries transitioning from physical card catalogs to computerized and online catalogs.  The Library of Congress which began distributing printed catalog cards to libraries in 1902 ended this service in 1997.  Before there were printed catalog cards and typewritten library cards they were handwritten.  In 1861 the Harvard College Library became the first library in the United States to use a public card catalog instead of a printed catalog as the primary method for library users to determine what books were available in the library. Harvard created its card catalog using female assistants to hand write the cards. By the start of the 20th century almost all libraries in the U.S. used card catalogs with most of the cards handwritten.  Legible handwriting was critical and what became known as “the library hand” was fostered.  Melvil Dewey was a proponent of a standardized “library hand”, and as late as 1916 the New York State Library School founded by Dewey was teaching Library Handwriting.  David Kaminski, an independent researcher, has undertaken an in-depth study of library handwriting.  His ongoing study is titled The Varieties and Complexities of American Handwriting and Penmanship: Library Hand and is available online.  In his online compilation of information related to library handwriting, Kaminski includes an excerpt from a discussion of which took place between Melvil Dewey and other library leaders at the American Library Association Lake George Conference in 1885 concerning handwritten catalog cards and their replacement by typewritten catalog cards.  Dewey was an advocate for the Hammond typewriter. Although typewritten and pre-printed catalog cards replaced handwritten catalog cards starting in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Some small libraries continued to use handwritten cards well into the 20th century. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

1874 Boston Public Library Overdue Book Notice



In a previous blog post I claimed to have the world’s largest collection of overdue notices on postal cards. Postal cards are the pre-stamped cards sold by the post office which were first issued in 1873. I also wrote posts about possibly the oldest (December, 1873) and second oldest (May,1874) overdue notices mailed on postal cards. I now have another contender for the second oldest overdue notice mailed on a postal card. It was mailed by the Boston Public Library on February 5, 1874, and is shown above and to the left. The postal card itself was printed for use in 1873 but the “3” has been struck out and replaced with a “4”.  It is an especially elaborate overdue notice citing the library’s rules about overdue books in their entirety. The library staff member taking ownership for sending the overdue notice was Edward Capen, Keeper of the Lower Halls.  The postal card notes that, “In charging yearly several hundred thousand volumes to borrowers, the utmost precaution will not prevent an occasional mistake; and borrowers are particularly requested to notify the Superintendent promptly of any errors on the Library’s part.” Although Edward Capen is listed on the postal card as the "Keeper of the Lower Halls" he had been appointed as the first "Librarian" of the Boston Public Library in 1852 by the Boston City Council and continued to officially hold this designation until 1874. In 1858 a position designated as "Superintendent" was created over the "Librarian" position. The first Superintendent was Charles Coffin Jewett. Although the overdue notice was not mailed on a postal card, I have in my collection of librariana an overdue notice mailed on Jan. 7, 1832 by the Sir P. Dun's Library in Dublin, Ireland. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Melvil Dewey’s Shorthand





Melvil Dewey was obsessed with efficiency. One of the devices that he used to improve his personal efficiency was writing in shorthand.  The form of shorthand that he used was called tachygraphy, a system promoted by David P. Lindsley.  Dewey taught himself the system while at Amherst College, and became so adept at it that he began teaching other students how to use the system.  Dewey recorded his personal diaries using tachygraphy which has posed an obstacle to his biographers.  As a collector of postal librariana I was delighted to recently acquire a postal card (see above) in which Dewey used shorthand to communicate with George W. Cole in Fitchburg, MA in 1886.  At the time Cole was working on the catalog of the Fitchburg Public Library, and he obviously was also familiar with tachygraphy. Although the postal card is pre-printed with the logo of the Columbia College Library for which Dewey was the Chief Librarian, the card was mailed from Mackinac Island, MI on September 18, 1886.  I haven’t been able to determine why he was in Michigan on that date, perhaps for a holiday. Dewey's diaries are in the archives of the Columbia University Library.

Monday, May 16, 2016

ALA Washington Office 1982 First Day Cover



On July 13, 1982 the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a postage stamp honoring Americas’s Libraries. The first day of issue ceremony for the stamp took place in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia Civic Center in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Library Association. Participants in the ceremony included ALA President Betty Stone, Keith Doms, Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and Jane F. Kennedy, General Manager of the Library Division of the USPS. It is common practice to create special first day covers (envelopes) for new postage stamps that are cancelled with a “First Day of Issue” postmark. These covers usually include a cachet (illustration) and are created by commercial companies, organizations, and individuals. The American Library Association created its own first day cover (see below) which it sold to ALA members and collectors of first day covers.  The Washington Office of ALA also created a first day cover to celebrate the occasion. I’m a collector of first day covers for the 1982 America’s Libraries postage stamp, and I recently had the good fortune to receive as a gift one of the first day cover issued by the ALA Washington Office. Thank you Gail McGovern! The really neat thing about this cover which is shown above is that it is signed by Betty Stone, ALA President, and Eileen Cook, the Director of the ALA Washington Office. The cover includes an insert “An A B C For Dealing With Your Legislators”. The content of the insert was created by Rep. John E. Fogarty of Rhode Island for an ALA Legislative Workshop in 1965.  I wrote a previous post about Eileen Cooke and the other “Extraordinary Women of ALA’s Washington Office”. 




Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Uncovering a WI Library Postcard Mystery



I recently purchased a postcard on eBay showing the interior of the Jefferson (WI) Public Library, a Carnegie library building.  Wisconsin library postcards is one of the categories of postcards that I collect, and interior views of libraries are not common.  Only the picture side of the postcard was displayed on eBay so I was pleasantly surprised to find that the message side of the postcard had several interesting library connections.  I had to work a little to discover all of those connections.  The postcard was mailed form Jefferson, WI to a public library in Wisconsin. The name of the person to whom the postcard was sent and the name of the city in which the public library was located were obscured.  Under close examination I determined that a likely candidate for the city was Superior.  I had been in recent contact with Teddie Meronek, Area Research Librarian for the Superior Public Library, about another library history question, and I contacted her for the name of the director of the Superior Public Library in 1915, the year the postcard was mailed. She let me know that the director was Blanche L. Unterkircher, and again with close examination it was almost certain that this is who the postcard was sent to.  The message on the postcard reads: “Hello: Am just about settled. Spent a fine week at Milwaukee. Jefferson is a very pretty town and so far we are well pleased with it. Across the road from the house is the river and it surely is a beautiful spot. I’ve discovered a library – thank goodness – and now watch the circulation increase. Love from [crossed out].”  There are two stamped messages on the postcard. One states “From the Picture Collection of the Art Dept. of the Los Angeles Public Library” and the other “Post Card File”. How the postcard got from Wisconsin to the Los Angeles Public Library is still a mystery.  The postcard like many public library postcard collections was probably deaccessioned at some point and went into the hands of a postcard dealer. Now the postcard is back in Wisconsin.  It is a shame that someone felt that it was necessary to obscure the names of the postcard recipient and sender, but regardless I'm glad to add it to my collection. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Monolite Bookmobile Postcards


On National Bookmobile Day I thought I would feature some Monolite bookmobile postcards.  According to its website the Moroney Company in Massachusetts began producing its line of Monolite bookmobiles in 1940 and continues to do so up to the present.  In the 1960s and 1970s Moroney published a series of postcards featuring their bookmobiles.  These postcards were 8 ¼ inches wide instead of the standard 5 ½ inches. Below are five examples of these postcards. 


Calvert County, Prince Frederick, MD
Four County Library, Binghamton, NY
Henderson County, Athens, TX
Mercer County, Trenton, NJ

Bucks County, Doylestown, PA
                   I have written a number of previous posts about bookmobiles.
                       

Sunday, April 10, 2016

National Library Week and Meter Mail


Today is the first day of National Library Week with a national theme of “Libraries Transform”. In 1957 the National Book Committee, a joint committee of the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council, recommended the establishment of a National Library Week.  The first National Library Week was observed May 16-22, 1958 with the theme "Wake Up and Read". It has continued every year since 1958.  In 1974, the American Library Association became the sole sponsor of the event. Libraries and other organization that used meter postage machines for their mail were able to add slogans for special events such as National Library Week. Below are some examples of these slogans for previous National Library Week campaigns.













Thursday, April 7, 2016

Philatelic Exhibit about the Library of Congress

This past weekend I displayed a major revision of my philatelic exhibit about the Library of Congress at the Saint Louis Stamp Expo. I was rewarded with a gold medal and the Best Display Exhibit award.  Display exhibits are those that include non-philatelic as well as philatelic elements in the exhibit, usually ephemera related to the topic of the exhibit. The items in the exhibit are mounted on ninety-six 8 1/2 by 11 inch pages displayed in special exhibit frames. I’ve been collecting philatelic and other items related to the Library of Congress for more than twenty years. Of particular significance in the exhibit are those items that document the role that mail played in the operations of the Library of Congress.  I will also be displaying the exhibit at the Danepex stamp show in Madison on April 10, the first day of National Library Week, and later in the month at Wiscopex in Fond du Lac, WI. I will also show it in a couple of other national level shows later this year. This is my thirteenth year of displaying library related exhibits at stamp shows. Although my primary impetus for exhibiting at stamp shows has been the promotion and appreciation of library history, I’ve been delighted to have my efforts recognized in a positive way by the philatelic community.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Where are my breeches? Library War Service, 1918


I recently came across a packet of correspondence related to uniform problems of a worker in the WWI ALA Library War Service. The 1918 correspondence involved Alvin W. Clark at the Camp Sevier South Carolina Library, the ALA Library War Service Headquarters in Washington, DC, and the contractor engaged by ALA to provide uniforms.  The gist of the matter relates to the fact that Clark was entitled to two pairs of breeches for his uniform and he only received one pair. Further, the measurements for the first pair were not satisfactory, and finally according to Clark the leggings he received “have now become creased or wrinkled in two or three places and consequently they look bad”.  Poor guy. The letter above from LWS Executive Director George B. Utley, who was simultaneously ALA’s  Executive Director, advises Clark of how he can correct his problems.  Interesting example of the practical logistics involved in the operation  of ALA’s Library War Service.  

Friday, March 11, 2016

Librarian of Congress A.R. Spofford, 1875 Letter


Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford who served from 1864 to 1897 was the first librarian to select and purchase books. Formerly this had been done by the members of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Library. In the letter above dated May 15, 1875 Spofford negotiates the purchase of a book for the library's collection. Spofford writes to M.M. Jones of Utica, NY: " A French gentleman of this city informs me that you have 2 copies of the "New York Balloting Book" folio 1825 which you offer at $5 each. My informant not wishing to purchase asked if this Library world make the purchase for its shelves. If you will send a copy of the work with bill of the same at $5 the amount will be promptly submitted."  It is extraordinary that Spofford with so many demands on his time would engage in a transaction involving a single book. Spofford is writing on stationery of the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. The responsibility for copyright had been transferred to the Library in 1870. This letter which is part of my collection will be included in a philatelic exhibit that I'm working on about the Library of Congress.