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.

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