Friday, December 3, 2010

Otis Hall Robinson (1835-1912), Rochester University Librarian

Happy birthday to the man who put the hole in library catalog cards. Today marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Otis Hall Robinson who served as Librarian of the University of Rochester Library from 1868 to 1889. Robinson is noted more for his advocacy for library instruction than for his idea for dealing with the annoying tendency of library users to remove catalog cards and put them back in the wrong order (or to keep them for later reference). But lets not underestimate the importance of that idea. How often has a single idea or practice been adopted by every library in America. Robinson's plan called for punching a hole in the lower left corner of each catalog card and running a rod through all the holes to prevent the removal of the cards. Later with the development of standard catalog cabinet drawers the hole was moved to the center of the catalog card. Although French librarian M. Pincon had similar thoughts, Robinson's holes (which were larger than the rod) were more effective. The catalog card above (a Harvard sized catalog card) started out with the hole to the left but was moved to the center later.

Robinson is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography (Libraries Unlimited, 1978) where there is an excellent article about him by Edward G. Holley. There is also actually some information on the University of Rochester Library website about Robinson (although it is easier to find through Google than their website). Both sources provide a good picture of the challenges and limitations of academic librarianship in the 19th century. Robinson was exceptional in his views on serving the library and information needs of students. Even so, the library was only open a few hours each day.


Anonymous said...

Your library blog is one of the most interesting on the Internet. it should be required reading in all library schools lest our fascinating heritage be lost.

Brian Coutts

Larry T. Nix said...

Thanks Brian for the high praise. Larry

Jennifer said...

Very interesting. As a UofR alum, I am doubly proud of librarians and of Rochacha. Yes!