Checkout Cards

Posted on 30 September 2014

Checkout Cards

Given that I’m old enough and old fashioned enough to still browse library shelves, I more than occasionally find filled-out checkout cards—a kind of accidental, ephemeral art—reposing in the back inside pockets of cloth-bound books. Here are eight examples from volumes on U.S. western history (a library section I frequent) at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library (“ML”). The markings on these cards whisper stories like the transition from Dewey Decimal to LOC. The terminal date stamps indicate the period—the mid 1970s—when the Marriott switched from a signature system to a bar code system. (This particular library skipped the intermediary era of IBM punched cards.) Generally what remains of the original bar code stickers are glue stains; most the stickers have fallen off. The names in pencil and ink illustrate how correct cursive handwriting used be de rigueur. Meanwhile, the cataloging details from the typewriter suggest how different scholarly publishing used to be. Gone are the days when a university library purchased five copies of The Oregon Trail (1849) and five more of The Negro Cowboys (1965). Like so many kinds of obsolete technology, checkout cards are now subject to hipster commodification: newfangled old-looking cards may be purchased from various online vendors.

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