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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library Card Sign-up

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 10, 2010

September was Library Card Sign-Up Month all across the nation.  During the month, we attracted over 400 new library users who did not have an active library card.


Add that number to the 33,000 people who already have active library cards, and there’s a bunch of people using the 7 libraries that comprise our countywide library system.


And all of our library card holders use the 75 library systems that comprise our network of libraries that share the 6 million items in the collections of those libraries.


That is a lot of library usage and a lot of sharing of resources!


The whole card issue was much simpler in the early days of libraries.  In 1815 when a subscription library was established in Steubenville, people either read the book in the Drug Store, or kindly asked the druggist to borrow the book and take it home.


By 1848, the City Library Association of Steubenville sold subscriptions to use the library, and received government funds to operate the library.


Ledgers were maintained with the names of subscribers and lists of books that they had borrowed a rather cumbersome system.


With all the new libraries appearing in the late 19th Century with funding by Andrew Carnegie, a new system had to be found to record the checkout of library books to the public.


About 1900, the Director of the Newark Public Library in N.J., developed the book card system, in which each library book had a card in a pocket to allow it to be checked out to a person.


That system worked well, but library use was growing and the cards quickly filled up with names.


The “Detroit System” was developed in 1929 to match the number on library cards to the person, allowing the book cards to contain more information than was available with signatures.


In 1932, the Gaylord Brothers Corp. introduced an electrically operated “book charging machine” that stamped the information on a card more effectively using a metal plate.


This technology lasted more than 60 years, with librarians talking about their “Gaylord Charger” in warm tones of admiration.


Metropolitan libraries often used a “needling system” to sort cards, using what looked like a knitting needle to pull through holes in the cards and separate the overdue books from the file of cards.


Technology took a jump in 1970 when the same Gaylord Bros. introduced one of the first automated book charging systems.


The invention of the bar code label to identify railroad freight cars was the thing that was needed to allow the automation of libraries.


Over the next 25 years, systems improved and now most public, school, and academic libraries are automated.


When I arrived here in 1983, our library system was using a modified Gaylord system, which worked fine until someone used a different building within our system.


Automation came in 1988 as we were one of the first four libraries to join the SEO Automation System, a cooperative that now has 75 libraries with over 800,000 library card holders.


In the history of library cards, the date of Sept. 27, 1977 reigns as significant.  On that day, the TV series “Happy Days” found the character of “Fonzie,” portrayed by actor Henry Winkler going to the library to apply for a library card.


In the week that followed, our nation’s public libraries saw a 500% increase in library card applications among young people.


We found that if Fonzie had a library card, lots of young people wanted a library card.


Today, library card applications are again surging, even without Fonzie’s help.