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“Old libraries and old librarians”

Librarians truly defy definition. Just when I’m beginning to think there’s some way to characterize them, at least in broad groups, someone comes along who couldn’t possiby fit – and yet is clearly a member of the community, and often a leader. I don’t have much time to read listserv messages but I belong to a couple and scan the subject lines when I can. “Old libraries and old librarians” caught my eye, and I wrote to the author of the following post, Lee Hadden of the Geospatial Information Library in Alexandria, VA, for permission to reprint it. You’ll see his response – complete with Chinese – below the original post, full of links to some of his projects. It’s great to have e-met Lee, even though we’ll perhaps never do publisher-librarian business, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his listserv message. And if you don’t have much contact with librarians, you’ll see just what I mean about defying easy description. I am beginning to think that their key characteristic may be humorous self-deprecation – along with an amazing ability to compile lists. Or it is the ability to compile amazing lists? Here’s Lee:

Hi Dan!
Try those check-out machines that took a photo (Recordodak by Kodak?) of the book cover, due date and patron card, and then made a microfilm copy of the transaction.
Or the later Gaylord check out machines with the metal tabs on cards to show the patron ID and to mark the due date and cut a notch in the checkout card.
Check-out card bins arranged by due date, call number, or patron code, but not by all three or even two
Printed Library of Congress catalog cards by mail.
Multi-colored tabbed card markers so supervisors could check the card shelving alphabetization skills of different library clerks (red for Mary,Blue for Sarah, Salmon for John, etc.) Then they would place the card in the drawer above the rod with a colored tabbed card behind it. The next day, the librarian would check to see if it was in the right place, and if it was, would pull out the tabbed marker, would then pull out the rod, drop the catalog card in the right spot, re-insert the rod, and refile the drawer. And if a student dropped a drawer before it was checked and all the cards were deranged, it was permitted for the library worker to kill them by stabbing them in the back with many Gaylord rods. Or at least it was justifiable homicide…
Card catalog stands. Separate Author, Tile and Subject card catalogs.
And the extra shelf list card drawers
Microfiche kiosks which found pie shaped microfilm cartridges and inserted them in the reader and then rolled them to the correct page
Whiteout on spine labels, pocket labels, etc., and on catalog cards (with a special beige card color)
Computer output microform (COM) library catalogs
Red tape
Horn rim glasses, cheap pocket watches, ties and coats for male librarians. Breast watches, granny glasses on a faux pearl string, bustles and buns (to hold an extra pencil stuck through it) for female librarians. Known in fashion circles as “panache de nerde”.
An 18 inch or two foot long ruler (never a yard stick) carried under the armpit as 1) a swagger stick by library General Patton wannabes; or 2) used to check the distance between book spines and the edges of the shelf, to make sure books are shelved neatly for the patrons; or 3) to whack the fingers of silly library workers as a one room school teacher slapped surly adolescents in the 19th century.
“The Book of Answers.” Don’t know the book of answers? Well, this isn’t surprising. No matter what your age is, this was an invention of the previous generation. The Book of Answers was always owned by the previous librarian, or a librarian from long ago high school days, or the unnamed reference librarian at the university the patron attended decades ago. The Book of Answers was always the first reference book consulted; it only had one page between the covers that could easily be photocopied or cut and
pasted into an electronic document; had only the answer the patron wanted, and nothing in addition to what they wanted to know to prevent the patron from being confused by additional learning; and that page always proved that the patron was right and he/she would be able to collect on a bar bet trivia
question. Any modern librarian who is not familiar with this reference book is of, course, inadequate to expected norms of service and expected competency, and annoys the patron with time consuming searches, library databases and catalog consultations. Besides, modern answers don’t
always agree with what the patron already knows, so it must be wrong.
Map borders (special tape to place around all four edges of larger maps, to prevent tearing)
Lazy Susan holders for multiple volumes of Reader’s Guides, dictionaries or other heavy reference books on over-sized tables
Automatic book shelving/retrieval systems behind glass partitions, using a mechanical arm and chains
Paper table of contents from magazines and files of article reprints
Vertical files
Multi-volume serial union catalogs so libraries could figure out which libraries had journal series for mailed ill requests. They also doubled as an international spy de-coding device, since the library uTm was different from UTm and was also different from UTM or utm or utM.
Kardex files to keep a record of received journals and serials
In math/science libraries, slip sticks (slide rules) and their leather holsters for the belt (they never fit well in the shirt pocket- too easy for the slide to slide out) used before calculators were invented, and
now found in expensive antique stores
Removable little chrome metal alligator clasps for #2 pencils, so they can be stuck on a lapel or shirt pocket, to help keep the pocket protector clean
Plug in electric erasers
Library script for catalog card entries (a form of standardized penmanship taught by Melvil Dewey)
Blotting paper, ink wells, celluloid cuffs, pen wipes, bottles of ink eradicator
Library tooled leather topped- tables for writing with a dip pen with a steel nib. BTW, I still use a fountain pen, and while attending a class with a bunch of 18-19 year olds at a local university, one of the students picked it up and asked what it was. I told him it was a fountain pen. He said, “Oh! I’ve read about them!” Made me feel a little short of a hundred years old
And I am also the kiss of death for modern technology. Every time I screw up the courage to buy something new in consumer electronics, it dies within six months. This happened to me with: Reel-to-Reel magnetic tape;
8-track stereo; Betamax; VHS; a PDA separate from a cell phone. I should rent myself out to Mossberg to find out which electronic doodads will fail in the market. The one thing I never bought that died was a 35mm reel projector.
Well, that’s my list. Lord, don’t I feel like an old geezer! And a librarian geezer at that!


Dear Karen or “Ni How”, Karen:
Of course you can quote me. There have been a few times when I’ve had to eat my own words, but usually I find them quite tasty, if a little tart.
(Shamefully stolen from Winston Churchill)
Dan Lester (see below) put in a request for information on failed technologies, obsolete technologies, and evolving technologies in librarianship. He is doing a presentation or something on this topic, and wanted some examples. I gave him probably more than he wanted. I usually do.
As for me, I am a reference librarian at the Topographic Engineering Center, a US Army Corps of Engineers research facility. I have worked to supply the civilian and military engineers in the field with information on transportation, geology, water, soil mechanics and maps about (usually) remote regions of the world. I’ve helped in finding water resources in Darfur, the Sudan; in searching for school children buried under a landslide in Leyte, the Philippines (see:; and earthquake humanitarian assistance in Indonesia (See: Most recently I have worked to find the remains of a Marine reconnaissance patrol that was ambushed in Guadalcanal, and have been MIA since 1942.
For thirty years, I have mostly worked in science and technology libraries, as a private company employee, a state employee, a contractor or as a federal librarian. I have started several medical and chemical libraries from scratch, including two in Saudi Arabia (see: and one in the Philippines.
However, I have also had some work as a public librarian on military post libraries in Maryland and in Korea (be a librarian and see the world).
I am also all dressed up today, because tonight I have to give the annual report of the Friends of Library Outreach (FLO), which raises money in support of the outreach office of the Loudoun County (Virginia) Public Library System. I am the Chairman.
There are several “Lee Hadden” folks on the internet, but if you combine it with “library” or “librarian”, you will find more than you want about me on; or
Let me know when you have me up on your blog, and the web address.


R. Lee Hadden
Geospatial Information Library (GIL)
Topographic Engineering Center
7701 Telegraph Road
Alexandria, VA 22315-3864
(703) 428-9206

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