Friday, March 20, 2015

Old Library Book Cards

fronts backs
For all images, click to enlarge

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my Mom volunteered at our local library, and I'd sometimes go there when she was on duty. I remember thinking how cool it looked when she (or, really, anyone) used the rubber stampers to stamp the date onto the card for each book being loaned out.

I thought of that when I recently acquired some old library book cards, including the three shown above (those are the fronts on top, and the corresponding backs beneath them). The Etsy seller from whom I purchased them said they were from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., so the people who checked these books out the library were probably spoiled rich kids.

It's fun to see these old cards, from the days before bar codes and electronic book-tracking systems. I love seeing how long the gaps were between the books being borrowed, the cumulative span of the books being on the shelves, the Dewey decimal numbers, the handwriting of the borrowers. I also love the title Further Adventures in Essay Reading (which begs the question of whether there was a previous volume simply titled Adventures in Essay Reading).

Here are two more:

fronts3 back3

Lots to like here, like the way Steven Anderson crossed the "t" in his first name. I also like how the date for April 11, 1973, was initially stamped upside-down and then re-stamped in the correct orientation. Did my Mom ever do that? Also, it's interesting to see that borrowers signed their names in pencil in the 1940s and ’50s, with pens becoming more common in the 1960s. I'm pretty sure this reflected the increasing nationwide use of ballpoint pens.

Where are these students today? And where are these books?

I no longer have these cards in my possession (I recently gave them to my friend Gilmore as a gift but scanned them first), but I have more of them. Perhaps I'll share them in future entry.


  1. School libraries had casual attitudes toward user privacy back in the day.

  2. Recently while hanging out on my lunch break at a library my father used to frequent, I decided to check out the section of books dedicated to my dad's passion, archery. After looking through some of the titles, I found two old cards in books he had checked out many years ago. Since my dad passed, it's always nice to find these little reminders of him in the most unusual of places.

  3. Very interesting. You have here a record of the renowned experimental theater director Peter Sellars twice taking out on loan a copy of Strindberg's "Eight Famous Plays" while he was a student at Phillips Academy in 1973-1974. Heady reading for a 16-17 year old, and quite possibly a formative experience for his future career.

  4. Are you familiar with this?

    1. I've actually written for Cabinet. Their offices are just a few blocks from my house, and I'm friends with the editor. But I wasn't aware of that particular article -- thanks for the tip!