A typewriter story on the 50th anniversary of the IBM Selectric Typewriter.
When the Harvard College Library decided to make its catalog more accessible to students by creating the first public card catalog in a library in 1861, it was necessary to produce the catalog cards in a hand written format. Assistant Librarian Ezra Abbot who was in charge of the project employed one of the female assistants at the library to write cards which she was able to do at a rate of twelve and one quarter an hour. More assistants were hired and in the first year 35,762 cards were written. [Source: "Boston Library Catalogues, 1850-1875" by Barbara A. Mitchell in Institutions of Reading, Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2007] Fast forward to the March, 1887 issue of Library Notes edited by Melvil Dewey which includes an extensive article on "Library Handwriting". The noteworthy point about that article is its introduction, probably written by Dewey, which states: "The writing of the future in and out of libraries is to be done as largely by machines as sewing is now. The hand, pen, and needle will always have a mission, but the silly prejudice against legible 'writing done on a machine with no individuality' is yielding very rapidly as the machines themselves are so nearly perfected." Included in that issue of Library Notes is an advertisement for two companies making typewriters. One of those was for the Hammond Typewriter. In the supplement to Library Bureau's 1886 Classified Illustrated Catalog which I mentioned in my previous post, the Hammond Card Cataloger was being offered by Library Bureau. The description for the typewriter states, "Preeminently the library typewriter, and the only one thus far invented that writes catalog cards perfectly." In support for the need for typewritten catalog cards it states, "The larger the library the more numerous are the employes in the catalog department, and the more confusing to the eye of the reader the eccentricities of their individual handwritings, and the more need of the clear, simple, and uniform characters which the Hammond produces." More on the Hammond Typewriter can be found HERE. The illustration above is from my copy of the Library Bureau catalog supplement. As an aside, when I started working at the Greenville County Library in South Carolina, in 1974 we had a programmable IBM Selectric Typewriter that would produce a full set of multipe heading catalog cards automatically after the initial catalog information was entered. When student groups took a tour of the library we called it the "magic typewriter". By the time I left Greenville in 1980 we had converted to a high speed enclosed microfilm catalog which eliminated catalog cards.
Mary Wright Plummer
2 weeks ago