Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blast from the Past: Library Card Writing Style was Important When People Actually Read and Wrote on Paper

A mere twenty years ago, you were likely to be presented with an odd little drawer cabinet at the library that indexed and catalogued all the current books and periodicals they had to offer.  A little further back in time, and all the info on those index cards were painstakingly handwritten.  Even more painstakingly than you might have imagined, since the orderly and fastidious librarians had decided on their own uniquely readable handwriting style to maximize understanding and minimize misreading of the information offered.  The handwritten "font" manually entered onto library index cards was known as "Library Hand"...

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
Atlas Obscura

Link to Article:
Library Hand, the Fastidiously Neat Penmanship Style...
Excerpt: "In September 1885, a bunch of librarians spent four days holed up in scenic Lake George, just over 200 miles north of New York City. In the presence of such library-world luminaries as Melvil Dewey—the well-organized chap whose Dewey Decimal System keeps shelves orderly to this day—they discussed a range of issues, from the significance of the term 'bookworm' to the question of whether libraries ought to have a separate reference-room for ladies.

They then turned their attention to another crucial issue: handwriting. As libraries acquired more books, card catalogs needed to expand fast in order to keep track of them. Though the newly invented typewriter was beginning to take hold, it took time and effort to teach the art of 'machine writing.' Librarians still had to handwrite their catalog cards. And this was causing problems.
'The trouble in handwriting,' said Mr. James Whitney, of the Boston Public Library, 'is that there is apt to be too much flourishing.'

 Professor Louis Pollens of Dartmouth College agreed: 'We want a handwriting that approaches as near to type as possible, that will do away with individual characteristics.'
A Mr. C. Alex Nelson, of the Astor Library in New York, then mentioned that 'T.A. Edison, the inventor' had lately been experimenting with penmanship styles in order to find the most speedy and legible type of handwriting for telegraph operators. Edison, Nelson recalled, had ultimately selected 'a slight back-hand, with regular round letters apart from each other, and not shaded.' With this style, Edison was able to write at a respectable 45 words per minute.

 Hearing this, Dewey set out a catalog-minded mission for the group: 'We ought to find out what is the most legible handwriting.'
This was the beginning of 'library hand,' a penmanship style developed over the ensuing year or so for the purpose of keeping catalogs standardized and legible."

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