netbib - old days of libraries

Well, I'm getting mail from all over requesting the answers to my trivia e-mail. Also, it seems to have opened a floodgate of reminisces and library technology trivia, such as the one below, several others from Karen G. Schneider, and others (including one witty post from "KWIC and KWOC, the Tappit Brothers of Libraryland"). Also, I have been stumped by all the library technology I don't know and don't remember.

What's a beehive?
A "beehive" is a old term for the OCLC m100 terminal. The dumb
terminal looked remarkably like the beehive used in the state symbol of
Pennsylvania, California and several other states. Alternately, it was said
to resemble a woman's hairdo style called a "beehive." This terminal was
used by librarians before the m300, circa 1976-1985-ish. I couldn't find a
picture of one on the Internet, but a beehive was prominently displayed at
the Smithsonian's recent "History of the Computer" show.

A bone folder?
A bone folder is an object much like a ruler, sometimes with a pointed end, often not, that is used to bend the cover of a book where the cloth or leather covered cardboard meets the spine, into what is called a "spinal gutter." Also, it is used to smooth glued surfaces or straighten bent pages or make to make creases or to define folds in paper or to smooth, bend or fold binding cloth such as buckram.
Library lore (which often means it's really not true) states that the original bone folders were taken from the corset stays of early pupils of Melville Dewey at Columbia U. Hence, they are "bone folders" because they were made from baleen, a cheap bone-like substance taken from the mouths of whales and used for corset stays, rulers and other functions, very prevalent during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
BTW, bone folders are still available from Gaylord and you can see a photo or at Brodart , and other library supply houses, although nowadays they are mostly made from plastic instead of whales' seines.

Red tape?
Red tape is a narrow cloth ribbon that came on large spools, and was used to tie papers together in the long ago days before Manila folders.
The librarian would wrap the ribbon around the paper, then loop the tape and wrap it around the other axis of the paper, giving it a cross-shaped wrapping, like a Christmas present. The ends of the tape would then be tied together in a bow tie. As you can imagine, items tied together like this became lost, disorganized and confused. Larger sized documents could not be held together with red tape along with smaller sized items. Think of trying to add 3x5 inch index cards to a sheaf of legal sized papers, and you can imagine how quickly the system falls apart. Over time, this became associated with government bureaucracy, and became a by-word for officiousness and inefficiency.
Red tying tape is still available from library supply houses. You can
see a photo and order a spool from here

What item was used before the paperclip was invented and why did it often bring tears to the eyes of librarians?
The paperclip was invented when someone got mad because they were stung, once again, by the sharp point of the straight pin which was used to pin pages together. They got so mad they bent the pin, and thus history was made. For the librarians, not only were there tears of pain from punctured fingers or piercing under the fingernail, but often paper files had small blots of blood on correspondence copies, etc., showing the "Red Badge of Librarianship!" Quelle horreur!
BTW, in the British military establishment, the common paperclip is also often referred to as "the court martial clip," because far too often classified documents would transfer from one set of papers to another, when paper clipped pages were stuffed into or withdrawn from open files. Many a Chief Petty Officer's career was ruined when an added page from a confidential file was sent to the wrong office by mistake, or never sent at all.
See the comments about the engineering and development of paperclips
in Henry Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things"

What's an electric eraser?
The electric eraser is a rubber eraser similar to the ones found on the end of a number #2 pencil. It had an electric motor which rotated the eraser rapidly, and helped erase stray marks from books, album covers and circulation desktops.
As an aside, it also helped put a shine on the narrow edge of a man's shoe sole, but you never heard that from me, since it ruined the eraser tip and covered it with black shoe polish. I think there is still a faded Wanted poster of me somewhere on the walls of some library someplace where a librarian went to use the electric eraser and instead put shoe polish all over an expensive book. But, Oh my! Didn't my shoes just look dandy and shine so bright!
Most often the electric eraser was used on book spine labels or pockets, to remove incorrect call numbers or other stray marks. At one time, it was the height of luxury to have the eraser rotated by electric current, and saved the staff from cramping their fingers while using a manual art gum eraser, or before white out became universal. It is hard to imagine today, but only twenty or more years ago it was considered déclassé to have labels or items easily viewed by the public with an obvious correction on it. Librarians would either remove the incorrect spine label and replace it with a good one, or go to great pains to hide the correction. No one has the time to be such a perfectionist proclivities today, which has both good and bad points. The electric erasers are still available from a number of library supply stores. See the photograph of one.

Do you say "Press the Return key" or do you say "Press the Enter key" when you are giving computer instructions, and why?
"Return" is the key on an electric typewriter that brought the typehead back to the left hand side of the page, and replaced the L-shaped protruding arm on the manual typewriter. Old key entry rules followed earlier typing conventions, so older people still use the term "Return" for what is now consider the data "Enter" command. How ingrained are these old typing conventions? The QWERTY keyboard was invented before 1900 to slow the key entry on early typewriters, which would jam because the new key would strike before the previous key was released. We still have that old format keyboard as the standard. Plus, ergonomic and alternative keyboards have been around for years, but are seldom purchased, because they are "different."
Apropos, The Hirschorn Museum in Washington, DC, has a giant sculpture of a typewriter eraser, but most people have to spend so much more time explaining what a typewriter eraser is that they don't have time to explain pop art. Sic transit gloria...

Do you know why writing tables often had a smooth leather covered top?
Writing tables have a smooth surface so the pen would flow over the face of the paper placed on the table top without bumps from the grain of the wood or warps in the veneer. A luxury writing table has a solid wood top covered in soft leather, often the fine kind of leather found in men's wallets or gloves. This surface allowed the steel tip of the pen to flow even more smoothly over the paper, while allowing a little bit of indention into the paper surface to allow a slightly greater absorption of ink which made for clearer letters on fine paper. While this consideration is lost on the people who are used to only ball point or fiber-tipped pens, it is wonderful for those of us who still use fountain pens or inkwell dipping

Most people can describe an ink well for dipping a pen, but can you describe the special tin contraption that was used to fill up ink wells every morning?
In classrooms, each desk station had an insert for a glass or porcelain holder of ink for the pens. Most often the desk had a slightslope to facilitate writing, and a ledge along the top for the inkwells and grooves for the pencils or holes for the pencil box. Other desks were flat-topped, but still had the well for the ink. One of the early morning tasks on Mondays and Wednesdays was for the teacher or janitor or the children to fill each inkwell at each desk. While ink was purchased in large bottles, often they couldn't be used because the ink would coat the inside of the bottle and not allow the child to see how full the bottle was, or to watch the run of the liquid into the inkwell. Instead, a tin can, similar to a watering can, was often used. However, the spout was of unusual shape, often like a raven's beak, which was a wide, V-shaped spout that allowed the child to observe and control the flow of a black liquid into a recessed bottle. Often the child would carry a "pen wipe" or other scrap of cloth to catch the inevitable drip from the end of the ink bottle filler can. Nevertheless, going into an old school, one can often tell where the desks were arranged by the ubiquitous ink stains in front of each child's station, where the ink well was filled, often to overflowing, sometimes everyday.
And yes, little boys, sitting behind, would dip the pigtails of little girl's hair into the ink bottles for fun and to make them mad, back in the days before sexual harassment consciousness had been raised.

How was a special electric iron used in book preparation?
The electric iron was used for a number of years to apply heat sensitive labels to books. The heat would liquefy the heat-sensitive glue on the back of the label, and help smooth out the labels as the iron was passed over them. It is also used in book binding, lamination and other odd jobs around the library. Alternate terms were "heating iron," "sealing iron" or an "Oucher!" if you picked it up by the wrong end when you thought it was turned off. The electric irons are still available from library supply stores, and you can see one here.

Hope this answers your questions about the "old days of libraries"!
Info zu dieser Seite
In der Liste DIG_REF lief eine Diskussion über die "guten alten Tage" in Bibliotheken.
Die Mail von R.L. Hadden gefiel mir so gut, dass ich sie auf dieser Seite (natürlich mit seiner Genehmigung) aufbereitet habe.

Bone folder (1)
Red tape
Electric eraser
Electric iron


© Robert L. Hadden | Februar 2002