Olin's Access Revolution

The past 50 years have brought transformative changes to the technology that enables people to find, retrieve, and check out materials in Olin Library.

Getting materials

In 1961, only faculty members and graduate students were allowed take books off the shelves — called “the stacks” — themselves. Undergraduate students who needed books from the stacks had to either get a special pass or, more frequently, ask library staff to retrieve books for them.

To get a book from the stacks, students filled out a request form and received a number. Library staff sent the form through a pneumatic tube to the floor on which the item was located. Staff members then retrieved the request and a book conveyor delivered the item. When it arrived, the student’s number lit up on the call board behind the circulation desk. The original call board can still be seen behind Olin’s circulation desk, now a reminder of the old days.

Checking books out

Today, libraries use circulation software to capture information about which books are checked out, or “circulating.” Patrons receive e-mails to remind them of due dates; in turn, patrons can renew books online.  

Before these technological innovations, librarians used McBee Keysort cards to circulate materials. To fill out McBee cards, borrowers would list their names, addresses, book information, and call numbers. Library staff stamped the due date on the card and notched the edges to indicate the due date, then filed the card in a long drawer.

Ensuring security

Until the early 1980s, guards stood at the doors of Olin Library and searched bags belonging to patrons leaving the building to ensure that library materials had actually been checked out. Today, books are fitted with magnetic security strips that are deactivated at the circulation desk during the check-out process.

Continue on to Checking Books Out