Lobby Exhibition, 1947 Floral Motif on Column

75th Anniversary Main Page

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New Technologies at The Free Library of Philadelphia

1925 Contractors install numerous advanced technological devices to facilitate the storage and retrieval of almost two million volumes and to coordinate activities throughout the enormous building. Experts agree that the new library is the most technologically sophisticated in the world. The most important feature is the freestanding, six-tier, metal bookstack. Like a building within a building, this self-supporting stack holds more than one million volumes. By 1927, its capacity will be exceeded only by the stacks at the British Museum, New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress.

Step 1 1926 The new library's book retrieval system is designed to work like this: When a patron requests a book, a librarian in the Reading Room transmits the request to the stacks via a Teletype system. An employee stationed in the stacks: 1) receives this request via a recording typewriter; 2) retrieves the book from its place on the more than 20 miles of shelves; and 3) places it on a conveyor system for a long, circuitous trip to the requesting librarian. The entire process requires only two to four minutes.

Pneumatic tube station 1926 A sophisticated pneumatic tube system with dozens of stations throughout the library is installed. This will enable librarians and administrators to communicate rapidly and effectively.

Borrower’s card for the Free Library of Philadelphia Catalog card for Franz von Reber, History of ancient art 1926 The new building also houses an advanced book-processing facility, which includes a cataloging department and bindery. Here, new acquisitions will be both bound and cataloged. Once processed, a new book will be placed in the stacks, and its author, title, and subject cards will be placed in the Free Library card catalog in the corridors on the second floor. The book’s movements can be tracked with in-house circulation records and the borrower’s library card.

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