Sometimes with all of the new technologies to learn about in the library field (Big Data, AI, LibGuides, etc.) we can take for granted or relegate to dusty closets the equipment and older technologies that were used in libraries for decades. Patents can offer fascinating insights into common technologies, with drawings and descriptions illustrating how an object is assembled and citations to earlier patents showing the development of the technology. Here are a few patents for traditional library equipment like card catalogs and microfiche, found through Google Patents, just to give a quick look at what goes into the creation of the tools librarians used once on a daily basis.
Maybe we don’t use card catalogs on a daily basis anymore, but 30 years ago many libraries still used card catalogs for indexing and exploring their collections. Here are two patents that improve upon the design for card catalog drawers:
- US 3495731 A, published February 17, 1970, describes “improved construction for a card catalog drawer particularly adapted for use in libraries where these drawers are subject to continuous manipulation, and are often removed from the cabinet to provide access to the catalog cards contained therein.”
- US 5257859 A, published November 2, 1993, describes a drawer with “a smart mechanism to facilitate removing or discarding the catalogue cards by easily removing the metal rod passing through the hole located at the bottom of catalogue cards.”
If you want to learn more about the evolution of library card catalogs, read this post from The Library History Buff describing the history of card catalogs back to 1789.
Microfiche has been largely replaced by online digitization, but many academic libraries still have a microfiche viewer hidden somewhere in a dark corner to view old periodical collections. Check out these three patents to learn how microfiche is produced and viewed:
- US 3690762 A, published September 12, 1972, describes a method for producing microfiche that “includes the steps of exposing a series of image areas on a film strip, leaving blank areas at predetermined locations on the film strip, processing the film strip to produce image transparencies thereon, arranging the film strip in the form of a helix with portions of each of the blank areas aligned, securing the blank areas to one another, cutting through the film strip in the blank areas to form the image areas into a matrix having the form of a parallelogram, and positioning the matrix to project selectively the images thereon for viewing purposes.” (Yes, patents can have very, very long sentences.)
- US 3409361 A, published November 5, 1968, describes a microfiche positioning apparatus with a holder that can be “manually positioned within the projection apparatus to selectively scan one or several images and to reset the holder so that additional images may be reproduced without repositioning the microfiche.”
- The design patent US D211414 S, published June 11, 1968, describes the ornamental design for a spiffy microfiche viewer.
You can find an entertaining and in-depth history of microfiche in the article Honey, I Shrunk the Page by Ernie Smith.