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Doing the library old school

Card catalog

We wandered around the BPL in Copley Square today, and the kidlet got her first ever look at an actual card catalog - and microfiche readers - in the shabbier, lesser known reading room, the one upstairs from the grand Bates Hall reading room, the one with the peeling paint and the, well, card catalog and microfiche readers. She also got her first look at one of the request slips you'd fill out after finding the book you wanted in the card catalog.

But even in the Bates Hall reading room, it seemed like half the people in the place were scanning laptop screens rather than actual printed material, so all those lamps were more for mood lighting than anything else.

BPL reading room

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Comments

Kids are so lucky they don't have to go through that shit anymore!

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I don't miss that archaic card system at all. The BPL's current online system that tells you immediately if a book is currently available and at what branch, is far more efficient.

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If you use any of the computer terminals stationed around the library, there are often stacks of the old cards to use as blank paper on which to scribble down the call numbers for books you look up. This is pretty standard in most libraries now. Saves paper.

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I worked in our town library as a teen and one of the things i did was keep the card catalog updated. We always had plenty of cards for scrap paper , pulled from the catalog when the book was gone or an updated card came out.

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Not computers.

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It's past the card catalogue on the 3rd floor, by the rare book room.

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A year ago I had the opportunity to walk into a paperfull, 100% silicon-free office in India.

It was an awesome add on to an awesome trip.

They should keep a card catalog in the BPL just so kids can come and look at it, if only once.

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The notations on the back and front of catalog cards should be saved digitally!

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Dynamic of the BPL staff can be improved. A more welcoming attitude toward library users and visitors needed. Too many library users are left stranded by a bad system that fails to connect the individuals on the staff with their special expertise to library users. Voluntary Boston Public Library listings are needed like faculty listings on university websites. Individual staff can indicate their particular expertise with the BPL collections and even can blog about their expertise with BPL collections on the BPL website. How ironic that BPL controls, censors, discourages BPL librarians from expressing their expertise around this medium !

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Adam: How is that room accessed?

I was in Baltimore recently. The main branch of the Enoch Pratt still has card catalogs in the arts room. So I think the BPL at least is using better technology.

Whether Boston is world class or not it still relies upon a better level of technology and service than similarly sized cities. One of the perennial complaint about Boston cabs is when the credit card readers are supposedly not working. I was surprised to discover that in Baltimore and D.C. many cabs (perhaps all) do not accept credit cards at all.

The subway in D.C. is quieter and cleaner. But on weekends it runs on a bus schedule. Every 20 minutes at best. For all the T's woes it at least usually runs more frequently.

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We were up on the third floor of the original building, near the room where they keep the dioramas. Sorry for lack of more specific directions, we didn't leave a trail of breadcrumbs, but the floor is small enough it shouldn't take too long to find it (and while you're up there, take a moment to marvel at the room filled entirely with Joan of Arc books and memorabilia - including one DC comic book that featured her on the cover).

I don't know if the cards are actually still in use, or if they're just for one specialized collection, but as I mentioned, they did have the request cards (and pencils with which to fill them out - and a librarian at a desk).

To be fair to the BPL, their catalog has been online for years and is fairly easy to use.

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I worked a couple of summers in the 60's as a runner at the BPL. If I remember correctly, there is an ornate room with a huge fireplace down the corridor from Bates Hall where the card catalogue used to be (it's now empty). For non-circulating books, you filled out a request slip with your seat number, submitted it to one of the clerks behind an equally ornate, raised wooden counter like the tellers' stations in old banks. He or she put the slip in a canister & sent the canister flying to its destination via the library's pneumatic tube network. Someone on the floor where your book was shelved would retrieve your book or books, slide the call slip between the cover & the first page with the name & seat number sticking out, & put it on a perpetually running dumbwaiter-type gizmo. The book/s would arrive where we wingèd Mercurys were assembled & then be delivered to your seat.

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what a great story.

I'm sorry for the person who thinks the card catalogs were "shit". I'm a great fan of the internet and google and computer retrieval systems but I grew up using card catalogs and stumbled across many an interesting book while thumbing through the cards. It was slower and less precise, but it allowed for a serendipity that speed and efficiency eschew.

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BPL tubes

In the Issue Department. The photo doesn't have a date, but I think it's a safe bet it was some time before the 1960s (posted under this Creative Commons license).

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Those were not pneumatic tubes. According to this source, they were tubes through which to shout things to librarians elsewhere in the building.

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The photos at the link clinch it. The room I was thinking of is what's now known as the Abbey Room. The set-up for submitting your slips etc. was somewhat different in the 60's, but that's definitely the room. It really is a magnificent spot & now poignant in its emptiness. Anyone who goes to the library should check it out. I believe they used it for the Pope's bedroom when they shot scenes from that Steve Martin Clouseau film at the BPL a few years ago.

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I remember those pneumatic tubes from my early days of going to the BPL. As a child they fascinated me.

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At least until about 15 years ago or so, the tubes were still running; on a slow day a librarian let my kids use them to send notes to the people working up in the stack.

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There's the miniature railway for moving mail and such among three buildings off Copley Square.

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