Wednesday, April 29, 2015

library's keynote

In a delightful essay on pneumatic tubes accessible from the media studies scholar Shannon Mattern's website, she writes of her memories of pneumatic tube systems in libraries:
The hiss of the tubes – although not quite as immediate as the whoosh at the bank – is, to me, the library’s keynote, as the composer R. Murray Schafer might call it. It is the audio track over which the building’s other sounds – heavy wooden chairs scraping across terrazzo floors, books thumping on tables, whispers ricocheting off hard surfaces – are laid (author’s emphasis)

I don't have any sound recording of library tubes, but I do have this great picture above, from 
John Caserta's lecture notes on Serendipity in the Digital Library. I also love the image in this wonderful essay of the newspaper readers. I still remember reading newspapers in the Tasmanian Public Library this way, complete with rulers and string. And more recently, looking for medical textbooks through the card files in the basement of my medical library, where old journals are stored in compressed stacks.

Libraries have not turned completely digital. While the pneumatic tube systems for sending books may have largely disappeared (except for a few places such as the Law Library Reading room at the Library of Congress), look out for the old card files, newspaper strings and compressed stacks, and when you find them, be careful - unlike compressed files, these places do have their dangers of getting squashed!

Mattern, S. (2010) Puffs of air: Communicating by vacuum In John Knechtel, Ed., AIR, Alphabet City #15 (Cambridge: MIT Press), p43. Accessed from (thanks to David Holt for recommending this to me)

Card file image my own, from recent fieldwork in medical libraries in Melbourne, Australia.

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