Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Libraries at Night on Postcards

In a recent search of library postcards on eBay there were over 17,000 listed. As I have noted before on this blog, I limit myself to collecting only selected categories of library postcards.  One very select category is postcards showing library buildings at night. Of the more than 17,000 library postcards on eBay less than twenty were libraries at night.  In my collection I have fourteen. Below are some examples from my collection.

Denver Public Library
Jefferson Building, Library of Congress
Riverside, CA Public Library
Handley Library, Winchester, VA

Boston Public Library

Friday, June 24, 2016

Library Handwriting

Early Harvard College Library catalog card
Catalog card from a small Wisconsin public library
Last year OCLC, the global library cooperative that operates the world’s largest online union library catalog, announced that it was discontinuing its service of providing printed catalog cards to libraries.  This follows decades of libraries transitioning from physical card catalogs to computerized and online catalogs.  The Library of Congress which began distributing printed catalog cards to libraries in 1902 ended this service in 1997.  Before there were printed catalog cards and typewritten library cards they were handwritten.  In 1861 the Harvard College Library became the first library in the United States to use a public card catalog instead of a printed catalog as the primary method for library users to determine what books were available in the library. Harvard created its card catalog using female assistants to hand write the cards. By the start of the 20th century almost all libraries in the U.S. used card catalogs with most of the cards handwritten.  Legible handwriting was critical and what became known as “the library hand” was fostered.  Melvil Dewey was a proponent of a standardized “library hand”, and as late as 1916 the New York State Library School founded by Dewey was teaching Library Handwriting.  David Kaminski, an independent researcher, has undertaken an in-depth study of library handwriting.  His ongoing study is titled The Varieties and Complexities of American Handwriting and Penmanship: Library Hand and is available online.  In his online compilation of information related to library handwriting, Kaminski includes an excerpt from a discussion of which took place between Melvil Dewey and other library leaders at the American Library Association Lake George Conference in 1885 concerning handwritten catalog cards and their replacement by typewritten catalog cards.  Dewey was an advocate for the Hammond typewriter. Although typewritten and pre-printed catalog cards replaced handwritten catalog cards starting in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Some small libraries continued to use handwritten cards well into the 20th century. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

1874 Boston Public Library Overdue Book Notice

In a previous blog post I claimed to have the world’s largest collection of overdue notices on postal cards. Postal cards are the pre-stamped cards sold by the post office which were first issued in 1873. I also wrote posts about possibly the oldest (December, 1873) and second oldest (May,1874) overdue notices mailed on postal cards. I now have another contender for the second oldest overdue notice mailed on a postal card. It was mailed by the Boston Public Library on February 5, 1874, and is shown above and to the left. The postal card itself was printed for use in 1873 but the “3” has been struck out and replaced with a “4”.  It is an especially elaborate overdue notice citing the library’s rules about overdue books in their entirety. The library staff member taking ownership for sending the overdue notice was Edward Capen, Keeper of the Lower Halls.  The postal card notes that, “In charging yearly several hundred thousand volumes to borrowers, the utmost precaution will not prevent an occasional mistake; and borrowers are particularly requested to notify the Superintendent promptly of any errors on the Library’s part.” Although Edward Capen is listed on the postal card as the "Keeper of the Lower Halls" he had been appointed as the first "Librarian" of the Boston Public Library in 1852 by the Boston City Council and continued to officially hold this designation until 1874. In 1858 a position designated as "Superintendent" was created over the "Librarian" position. The first Superintendent was Charles Coffin Jewett. Although the overdue notice was not mailed on a postal card, I have in my collection of librariana an overdue notice mailed on Jan. 7, 1832 by the Sir P. Dun's Library in Dublin, Ireland. 

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.