Sunday, May 2, 2021


In a post about vintage library supplies, I fell into in a reverie about the book-charging technology of my childhood. A librarian dropped the name in a comment: the Remington Rand Photocharger. Finding anything about this device online is difficult; finding a photograph or film clip, nearly impossible. But search we must.

That must be a charging device on the desk.

[“Fare ’Nuff.” The Indianapolis News, July 17, 1953. The text reads: “You don’t need a zone check on this bus, all the Public Library bookmobile asks for is your library card! Trying to make a decision at the Windsor Village station is Mrs. Dorothy Deck, while Allen Thompson, driver of the mobile library, acts as charge-out clerk.”]

But there has to be a better photograph, right? After endless searches in Google Books and the Internet Archive, I ended up searching in JSTOR. And there I found a much better photograph of what I remember:

[Dorothy Van Gorder, “What to do About Shelving and Equipment.” ALA Bulletin (November 1948). Click for a larger view.]

It’s the same machine as in the Indianapolis bookmobile. And I found something of a confirmation that the machine I’m seeing here is what I saw as a boy:

The bookmobiles of the Brooklyn Public Library use the same model Remington Rand photocharger as the branches.

Earl H. Gray, James C. Foutts, Dallas R. Shawkey, Nancy E. Miller, A. T. Dickinson Jr., and E. Stanley Beacock, “Bookmobile Service Today III: The New Bookmobile.” ALA Bulletin (July–August 1957).
That’s some years before my use of a Brooklyn branch library, but it’s close enough.

Now to get hold of a Remington Rand manual. Until then, here’s Bob McGrath of Sesame Street and a decidedly unsleek charging machine in the background.

You can watch the video at YouTube.


May 3: Stephen at pencil talk found a a post from the Brooklyn Public Library blog with a short educational film that shows the photocharger, The Library: A Family Affair (1952). If you’re impatient, go to the 9:37 mark in part one and get ready for the charger’s dramatic entrance. Both parts of the film are also at YouTube (unembeddable): 1 and 2.

As I now see, the photocharger photographed catalog cards, not title pages.


May 6: An anonymous librarian passes on an item from the Brooklyn Eagle column “Living in Brooklyn,” “Old Library Card Relic of the Past,” by Margaret Mara, July 14, 1952:
In case you are not up to date on your Brooklyn public library, you may not be aware that a revolutionary project put into effect last Fall has streamlined the system. Installed in the main library and all of the 48 borough branches are Remington Rand Photochargers which photograph, in one push-button, flash operation, a record of your identification card, book number and date on sensitized paper. Books can be returned to the shelves immediately, with no hold-up as in the past, while librarians and clerks labor over carts.

Six weeks after the date that books are issued the records of that date are scanned for overdue books. Only the overdue records are retained. The balance of that day’s records are then destroyed.

Incidentally, the proportion of overdue books amounts to approximately 5 percent.

Brooklyn is the only one of the five boroughs which has this system in its libraries. The machines are small, compact arrangements set right on the counter.

The photocharger differs from the library in the 42d St., Manhattan, library, where a microfilm is used. The photo charger reproduces on paper, 40% smaller than the original, whereas microfilm reproduces on film.

Only a librarian can truly appreciate this new system which has retired the mossy old library card stamped again and again with dates. That archaic system swamped the librarians with clerical work. Today a librarian has ample time to help the library patrons in selecting books. No longer is the limited personnel harried with stacks of books piled up and waiting to be checked and records transferred.

comments: 6

Fresca said...

You're a champ for hunting these down.

I think I recall such a machine too... When you mentioned the sound it makes, it came back to me.

Michael Leddy said...

It wouldn’t let me rest. It’s poignant to think about how gone these systems are.

Stephen said...

A photocharger is shown in action here:

(The telautograph also looks very interesting.)

I found that video via a post at the Brooklyn Library Blog, which fortunately notes the photocharger:

Michael Leddy said...

That’s fantastic, Stephen. I must have been confusing xeroxing pages (something I do often) with checking out books. It makes sense that just the cards would go under the light (two 100-watt bulbs, according to one of the articles I found).

Anonymous said...

it appears that boro pk baths once occupied the spot that the library was built on;sort:borough%2Cblock%2Clot%2Czip_code;lc:NYCMA~7~7&mi=0&trs=1

Michael Leddy said...

Wow — thanks, Anon.