Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oldest Overdue Notice?

Any library that lends its books or other materials for use outside of the library must have a system for insuring the safe return of those materials. The Library Company of Philadelphia, America's oldest lending library, had an early system under which a member of the library signed a loan slip promising to pay five pounds if the book borrowed wasn't returned to the librarian undefaced. I'm not sure which library mailed out the first overdue notice, but high on the list of things most ephemeral must be overdue notices. In my quest for postal librariana one of the kinds of items I appreciate most are government issued postage pre-paid postal cards. The United States Post Office Department began issuing these cards in 1873 and they were an instant success with the public, with the business community, and with libraries. For one cent which paid for the card and the postage, a library could transact a variety of library related tasks including the mailing of overdue notices. The postal card shown here was used by the Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts to mail an overdue notice to Mr. E. L. Barnard of Andover on December 27, 1873. I will make the claim that this is the oldest mailed overdue notice still in existence for a United States library until I am proven wrong. The card is signed by Ballard Holt, the first librarian of the Memorial Hall Library. Holt did double duty as both the librarian and the janitor of the library. The amount of the overdue fine was two cents per day. The overdue book is numbered 633.13, an apparent Dewey Decimal Classification number. However, although Dewey had submitted his classification scheme for consideration by the Amherst College Library where he worked in May of 1873, it was not until 1876 that it was published. The Memorial Hall Library is still in existence and its history can be found HERE. Evidently the library doesn't charge overdue fees now except for DVDs.


Benjamin L Clark said...

I wonder what the book was... If they're using Dewey, it would be in the Field & plantation crops section.

Chuck Whiting said...

Interesting history. In addition to the earliest overdue notice, you may also have the earliest evidence of the Dewey Decimal Classification system in use. I just read Wayne Wiegand's paper, The "Amherst Method" and it seems Dewey was still tweaking the system in November of 1873 before actually trying it out the next month. If I read that correctly, your overdue card from 12/27/1873 is very likely the earliest record of Dewey's system actually being practiced. Nice piece, nice post!

A said...
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