A Personal History
Everyone would hope to spend some time in the workroom during the day. The first workroom task of the morning was to write out reader tickets for the previous day’s new borrowers and those whose tickets had expired.
The book-card-in-ticket arrangement then in use is known as the ‘Brown’ issuing system; public libraries had no computers or security barriers in 1968. Borrowers living or working within the borough filled in a registration form and showed proof of address (non-residents’ cards were countersigned by an employer).
Members were issued with four library tickets, which were cardboard pockets bearing the borrower’s name, address and expiry date (of the card, not the borrower). Students could apply for an additional three student tickets.
New members could borrow books immediately on registration. Once tickets had been written, any book cards paper-clipped to the registration form were slipped into the tickets and these ‘charges’ were filed into the previous day’s issue (‘issue’ being the sorted records of the day’s loans). Each day’s issue was preceded by a marker indicating the loans’ due date. There was plenty of scope for things to go wrong.
The 5 x 3 registration cards were then filed into wooden drawers in the ‘borrower file’ and any surplus tickets were filed into a separate wooden issue tray at the counter for collection.
For subsequent workroom shifts there were damaged books to be repaired once any new books had been processed for loan. All were hardback.
Clear plastic sleeves protected the paper dust covers. Book pockets of thin card bearing the book’s unique ‘accession number’ were glued onto the inside cover. Inside each was tucked the ‘charge card’ which also bore the book’s accession number as well as its author and title. Branch stamps were applied to page 39 (for identification in case of theft) and to the back of the title page; the accession number was also written here in case the book pocket became detached.
A date label bearing the name of the branch went opposite the book pocket. This was where due dates of loans would be stamped (a useful guide to popularity when books were later considered for withdrawal).
The last two workroom hours of the day were spent sorting the issue. Charges were sorted into order of the books’ accession numbers. (A charge was a book card inside a borrower ticket, remember? Keep up at the back, there.)
This was a sought-after, sit-down workroom task at the end of the day. The timetable was written to ensure that the most experienced and/or accurate sorters were free for sorting the issue. Despite this, double-sequences and other mis-filing occurred.
There was a certain kudos in being adept at finding TLIs (Tickets Lost in Issue). Saturday Assistants would seek me out first when they couldn’t find the charge for a borrower’s returned book – me being a humble Library Assistant and closer to their own age. Skimming through the issue for these at speed impressed the juniors, but it had the unfortunate effect of wearing away the varnish at the ends of my fingernails.
The library was a sociable place and I soon got to know our regular borrowers. The workroom too had a friendly atmosphere. Counter staff might pop in to search the repair shelves for reserved titles that hadn’t been found in the library or issue trays. Banter was exchanged with the journey-van drivers who collected our boxes destined for Central library and brought us boxes heavy with reader’s reservations or new books. Occasionally the Branch Librarian might hear a conversation that he had views on and saunter from his office to join in.
In those days, if the workroom was empty it was probably a tea break.
I’d be fascinated to hear how this compares with today’s public libraries behind the scenes.
My local ‘Learning Centre’ never seems to be open when I’m in town 😦