How did libraries keep track of who borrowed what before computers?

By writing down who borrowed what, I guess, but does anybody know details? Like was there a big file cabinet with a file for each book, and they had to write a name or ID # of the borrower in the file? Or did they have a big book with a line-entry for each book, with the name/ID of the borrower written next to the book ID? (This doesn’t sound too feasible what with new books always coming in).

I’m guessing it was some system different from the ones I described above, neither of which sound very efficient even for pre-computer days.

At my local library, a card inside the front cover of each book seated in a small ‘envelope’ was removed when you checked the book out. I can’t seem to remember quite how these little cards (about the size of a credit card) were stored.

Oops…this was followed by writing your name on the card and stamping an inserted page with the return date.

I remember the cards. I would venture a WAG that they were stored by Dewey Decimal number, since that’s how the books themselves are stored.

How old are you? It wasn’t that long ago.

Books had a pocket glued onto the fly page. The pocket contained a card with the book name on it. When you borrowed the book, the librarian removed the card and wrote your membership number on it, and retained the card. The “return by” date was stamped on the pocket.

The retained cards were sorted by day, and maybe additionally by Dewey number or author.

When the book came back, the card had to found and replaced in the pocket.

Cards remaining after a few weeks indicated that the books hadn’t been returned, and a reminder letter or whatever was generated.

I volunteered at the local library in my (pop. 1071) hometown every summer during middle & high school in the early to mid '90s, just before they computerized their system.

What we did, and I beleive many other libraries did, was used book cards. there would be a sleeve pasted to the inside cover of the book, with a 3"x5" card in it, with a grid for names and dates. The patron would print their name on the card, and the due date would be stamped in the adjoining date space, and again on the sleeve in the book (so they knew when to bring it back). The cards were then filed by due date then by author’s last name (for fiction) or dewey decimal (for nonfiction) in a cardfile. When the book was returned, we crossed out the due date stamp, looked up the card in the file, put it back in, and reshelved it. If it wasn’t returned by the due date, on that day, we’d pull all the cards still in the file for that day, and call the people with outstanding books (yeah, small town…daily late fee? $.05 per book…).

That’s how we did it in my day…

Heh. You kids.

There was a small card in the front or the back of each book that was removed by the librarian that you wrote your name on when you checked out the book. The librarian stamped it with a due date with a little stamp you could change the dates on and put it in a checked-out “tickler” file. If the card was still in the checked-out file when the date came up, the librarian put the card in the overdue file.

Now I feel old!

At my local library, there was a card in a pocket in each book that had the book information such as author, title and call number if there was one. You gave the check-out lady your library card and she put your card and the book card in a machine that “took a picture” of both. So the library had a record of what book you checked out. This was 30 years ago and I can still see the check-out lady and hear the machine clunk!

The local library where I spent my formative years borrowing worked like this:
[li]You got a library card, which looked a lot like a credit card, with your name and address in raised type.[/li][li]You presented your card and your books to the librarian,who sat waaaaay up at the desk.[/li][li]She put your card in a stamping machine on the desk.[/li][li]She removed the card from the sleeve in the book, stuck it in the machine, which stamped your name onto the card. This card was filed. [/li][li]After stamping the cards, she stamped a set of slips with the return date on them, which she stuck into the sleeve.[/li][li]When you returned the book, the original card was returned to the sleeve. Any cards not returned to books after two weeks would be late, and they have your name on the card, so that they can send you a letter.[/li][/list=1]

I see on preview that I’m not the oldest one here. I think the difference between what I remember is the stamping machine that put you name onto the card.

Now that you guys mentioned it, I do remember the card they retained on check out. I am really too old to be asking this question… I used to go to the library every weekend as a kid in the lat 70’s, when they must have used this process.

I confused the thing where they stamped the due date with the card they took, I think.

Thanks for refreshing my memory, folks!

I saw these things on the Antique Road Show. I think they are called “Index Cards”. And they had these “File Cabinets”, but not the MS file cabinets in your PC, they were these big metal pieces of furniture that could hold alot of index cards. And there was somehting called a rubber stamp thingy with ink, and they would use it to mark the dates on the cards…stuff like that. :slight_smile:


Our library must’ve been “high-tech” compared to you guys’s. We had paper library cards with a metal inset with our number on it. when we went to check out a book, the card went in a machine and the book card was fed in and the library card number was stamped onto it with a loud CHUNK. At the same time, a little bite was taken out of the side of the book card, so that the next time it was inserted into the stamper it would go in a hair further and stamp the next number below yours. (I think the date was probably stamped at the same time.) I remember the cards would say “1” on the top half, then you flipped it upside down and it would say “2”, then the back side would say “3” and “4” so the library workers would “chunk” them in the right order. (You could only insert them so far before you had to start on the other side.)

The cool thing about this system was when you took the book off the shelf you could look at the card and see who else had checked it out. I remember there was one book about the Bee Gees that no one had checked out for like 15 years, and I was the only person who checked it out after that, like 7 times. HA!

So how much was it worth?

Back in my childhood days (born in '74) my local library ran the books that you checked out under a machine that flashed a light. I never asked how the machine worked back then, but I’m assuming that this was basically a camera. Books all had the little sleeve glued to their inside cover. The librarian would put a slip of paper into the sleeve and flash it using the machine. While I don’t recall exactly, I’m guessing that the library card was flashed first under the machine to keep track of who checked out what. As I vaguely recall the slips had numbers on them in the same “electronic” font as the routing/account numbers on checks, as well the due date for the book.

Anybody know exactly how this system worked? It seems it must have been pretty high tech for its day, no “writing your name on an index card” involved at all. The library went to laser pen bar-coding by around '90.

Assuming it was the same kind of system I worked with in the 70’s it was a camera. You put a numbered punch card into the book slip and photographed it together with the borrower’s library card. Each day or week the library staff would note which numbers had been used and report it to a central library service agency together with a note telling which date they were supposed to be returned plus the film (or if we sent them in when the film was full, I don’t remember).

When the books were returned the punch cards were removed and sent to the same central were they were ticked off by a computer. If a card didn’t show up on time the film was checked by som little old lady and a nasty letter was sent to the person, whose library card was on the photo.

And to get back to the manual method mentioned earlier in this thread (IIRC it was called the Chicago system or method or whatever) I can asure you that it was very boring sorting the cards.

Most libraries still do put “date due” stickers on the back, so even if you can’t tell who it was who last checked the book out, you can at least tell when. While I was researching my oral exam, I had occasion to check a book out of the school library which had last seen the light of day in 1975, two years before I was even born.

A big library (no, I don’t actually remember this - we just talked about it a few weeks ago in my library school indexing class) would have dates or numbers or however you wanted to organize a thing by running up the side of the card your name was on that they took out of the pocket and holes next to the numbers. When you checked it out, they took a hole punch thing and cut a chunk out of the due date one so the hole was no longer closed. Then when time’s up, they put all the cards together and ran a probe-knitting-needle-thing through the hole they were looking for and shook the thing - theoretically, yours would fall out. Sometimes you’d get “false drops”, which I’ve heard bad search engine results referred to these days sometimes, which is where that comes from. Obviously, you couldn’t do this too many times over with a single card, though, so it seems like a pretty wasteful system.

Our library cards were small card pockets, with your name and address on it. The books had a simlar pocket pasted ito the inside cover, with a card inside with the book details. There was also a page pasted inside for the date to be stamped.

When you checked out a book, the librarian took the card from the book and placed it in your library card, which she then put in a file in date order, and stamped the return date on the book.

The library cards with book cards inside were moved forward every day until they reached the return date.

Sounds cumbersome, but it was very quick, and the librarian never actually had to write anything.

Ah, you kiddies are missing out on the fun of all of this. Well, at least you are using the library!!

I can see adding a new date designation now.

Let’s see, …

AD / BC - Check
BP - Before Present - Check

New one …

BPC - Before Personal Computers.

“So, how old are you?”

“Umm, ah, about 25 BPC.”

I kind of miss that aspect of using the card system- being able to see who else has read your book, and when. Sort of gave a sense of history to the whole experience, and it was always fun to see a name you knew, or to discover a person who apparently shared several of your interests.