Checking Books Out

Left to right: Cornell “Main Library” “Home Use” Slips, ca. 1932; McBee Cards; McBee Card Spindle, Courtesy of Susan Currie.

Before McBee cards, library patrons filled out a “home use” check-out slip. The back of the slip outlines “home use rules,” including the policy that all books must be returned at the end of the academic year for inspection and repairs.

A sample McBee card illustrates the procedure for checking out books before automation. On the front side of the card, the borrower would record his or her name, address, and phone number, along with information on the author, title, and call number of the book. Note the call board number box in the upper right-hand corner of the card, where library staff would record the borrower’s paging request number. The back of the card was used to record searches for missing books.

Library staff used this metal rod, or spindle, to determine when books were overdue. Since McBee cards were notched according to their due date, they could pass the spindle through one hole in a series of cards. When they pulled out the spindle, cards for books with those due dates fell off the rod. Staff would photocopy and mail cards, along with notices, to delinquent borrowers.

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