Thursday, November 10, 2011

Most Data Collected on a Postal Card

Melvil Dewey was largely responsible for standardizing the catalog card at 7.5 x 12.5 centimeters in 1877. Almost immediately, Dewey began lobbying the U. S. Post Office Department to issue a postal card similar in size. That became a reality in 1898 when a postal card the same size as a catalog card was issued by the USPOD. Postal cards of this size are referred to as "library cards" by the philatelic community. I've been collecting these cards for a number of years, and next week I will have an exhibit of them at the big Chicago stamp show. My exhibit focuses on the various uses that libraries made of this postal card. One use that I found to be intriguing was its use by the California State Library to collect monthly public library data. By my count this report on a postal card that is slightly smaller than a 3 x 5 inch index card contains 36 data elements.  The card above is the monthly report for the Carnegie Library in Redding, California for December, 1906.  One of the more interesting data elements is a request for the three most popular books during the month. For the Redding Carnegie Library they were My Lady from the North, The Conquest of Caanan, and Lena Rivers.  Dewey argued that all USPOD postal cards should be standardized at this size. Of course, this made little sense for most users of postal cards since postal cards only cost one cent regardless of size, and the larger the size the more information that could be communicated. Just think how much more data the California State Library could have asked for if the card had been larger. The postal card above is shown at its actual size.

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