Monday, February 04, 2013

Charles Cutter and the Buffalo Public Library

 Charles Ammi Cutter did many things for the library world, but the most fascinating thing that I can find on him is his paper, entitled "The Buffalo Public Library in 1983", written in 1883 for the annual meeting of the ALA that year. You can find it in its entirety here.

Now aside from the fact that Cutter missed the mark on the population of Buffalo in 1983 (he said 2 million; it's 1/10th that), his musings are really awesome. Even though he did not, unfortunately, provide for the endurance of human nature. He claims that in 1983, because we have gotten better at teaching our children, the desire to read fiction has gone down from 75% to 40%. Oh, Mr. Cutter, you card.

Cutter puts a dedicated HVAC worker in this library. He also had ILL via telephone (remarkable!). Also, the library was open EVERY DAY.

But one of the most telling parts was his imagined answer to cataloging, writing some 80 years before the AACR:

“This,” said my guide, “is our cataloging and machine room. The books are classed and prepared for cataloging, each in its own department, under the eye of the librarian of that class. Difficult cases may be referred to the chief librarian, who will decide them or turn them over to the council, an advisory body composed of the several librarians, who meet every week, presided over by their chief, and deliberate on doubtful points of administration. But in the department the book is only prepared, the heading is settled, notes are written, and the like; the actual cataloging is done here by fotografy, instantaneous of course, as all fotografy now is. Here, you see, the new books are arranged, open at the title, against this upright board. These are duodecimos and octavos, the quartos are put on that stand farther off, and the folios farther off still, so that all the plates may be of about the same size. The standard catalogue card now is ten centimeters wide and fifteen high. Underneath each title you notice a slip, on which the cataloger has written those facts which the title does not show; the number of volumes, various bibliografical particulars, and sometimes short criticisms. These are reproduced on the plate. Longer notes, which are sometimes needed, must have a separate card. When a sufficient number of boards are ready one is put upon this travelling-car which is moved forward by clock-work; as each title comes in focus the slide of the instrument is drawn, and the title and its note are fotograft. The whole operation is very short, and, since the late improvements, much cheaper than writing. The printing from the negative is done in this way. We want, of course, different numbers of the different titles according to the number of times which they will enter into the catalog. A few, for instance, will only appear in the author catalog; others must be put under half a dozen different subjects. Multiplying the number of our catalogs by the number of appearances, and doubling this (for we always reserve the same number that we use) gives the required number. You see these round stands some with 6, some with 7, some with 8 sides, and so on. The cards to be printed are put into these and revolved in focus before the instrument. Different combinations give us the number of cards we want. If it is 25, two tens and a five are revolved; if it is 16, a ten and six are put on.” But doesn't the mounting take a long time? “Oh, no; nobody mounts nowdays, we fotograf directly upon the card.” The cards, by the way, were not kept in drawers, but ingeniously fastened together to make little books so contrived as to allow insertions without rebinding. “Experience has shown that they can be consulted more readily in this way than when kept in drawers.”

No comments:

"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.