Monday, October 31, 2011

The Electric Eraser

Last March I wrote about the card sorter as a piece of older library technology that many younger libraries don’t know how to use. Card sorters are used for catalog cards that need to be ordered before filing. Cards could be typed locally or purchased from a vendor. One reader suggested that I write about using the electric eraser as a lost art in preparing catalog cards. I never actually used an electric eraser. When I was a library page as an undergraduate I saw the technical services staff using electric erasers when correcting catalog cards.

I liked gadgets and wanted to try it since it seemed a lot easier than using a manually powered eraser.

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Electric erasers are still sold by library and art suppliers. They are used mostly by artists, architects and others who draw or write manually a lot. One would think that correction fluid and the computer delete key would make the eraser obsolete, but it is not. People still use their hands to write, draw and create and have a need to change and correct their work.

A digital agency in Germany, Jung von Matt/Next, created the “Museum of Obsolete Objects“ ( They claim that as our world becomes more and more digital some old technology devices fall by the way side as they are replaced by newer, “better” devices. Their “Museum” is a YouTube series of videos. Each video tells the device’s date of creation and the date they claim it became obsolete. Many of the devices in their display are not obsolete. Fax machines and quill pens are not obsolete. Their choice of objects shows a lack of understanding of the meaning of “obsolete.”

Sometimes a newer device or technology replaces an older one and sometimes it adds to our options. For a device to be obsolete it must be replaced by something that is functionally better. Better usually means that the new device can perform the function faster, less expensively, or has more capacity. For example the 8” and 5.25 “ floppy disks were replaced by 3.5” floppy disks in a hard plastic shells. The 3.5” disks stored more data in a smaller space and could be put in a shirt pocket. At first the 3.5” disks costs $14 each. When the price matched the older 5.25” disks on a cents per byte basis the older disks became obsolete. Except for historical purposes the 5.25” disks had no use. No one had a use for the older technology because the newer technology did more for less money and was easier to use. In turn the 3.5” diskettes were replaced by thumb drives and other compact memory devices, collectively called USB mass storage devices.) These newer memory devices are less expensive per byte to store data and easier to use. Most pictures files could not even fit on a 3.5” disk. One could have several gigabytes of files in a device about 2.5 inches long. My first device (64K capacity) was part of a working pen. When I went through airport security in June 2005 with it the guards had no idea what it was.

Some newer technologies have added to our choices. CDs replaced vinyl LP records, but there are still some being made and bought. CDs can store files inexpensively, but the sound is not the same as an LP. For most people the digital sound is superior, but some music fans like the analog sound that only LPs produce. Just because a device has passed from popular usage does not make it obsolete. Both the newer and older device can exist.

The electric eraser was never a must have device for every home or school child. Most had rubber erasers on the end of pencils and several kinds of rubber erasers. At the right is an example of a pink eraser.

They are still sold by office suppliers. Several videos on YouTube show how to make the pink eraser into a holder for a thumb drive. (For example:

To use an electric eraser take the card that needs changing and place it on a flat surface. With your non dominant hand hold the card firmly. If needed use an eraser guard to make sure you erase only what you intend. Turn on the eraser and carefully touch it to the words on the card you want to obliterate. Do not use too much pressure or the card will be ruined. When the words are gone, blow, brush, or wipe the dust away from the surface. Inspect, if you are satisfied that the card is ready for retyping, you are done. If not, repeat. Retyping can be problematic since the erasing process removes the surface finish of the card stock. You may need to type the new text multiple times before it is legible. If a name, subject, or heading was changed you will have to repeat this process for every card that needs changing.

Aren’t you now glad that you have a library management system that can make global changes with a few keystrokes?

Received from Kevin Roe on Nov. 1, 2011

Great article. We still have several electric erasers in our "archive" cabinet here at work. My favorite artifact is the glue machine, a very heavy behemoth that applied paste to the back of book pockets long before anyone thought of self-adhesive pockets. It did a great job, but wow, it was a pain to clean, and had to be done at the end of every day of use. For that reason, we only used it once or twice a week.

Another great piece of equipment we still have is the Gaylord Minigraph machine that reproduced catalog cards. We typed a shelflist card on a stencil that we then put on the minigraph drum that was filled with ink. The drum would rotate and ink would permeate the holes in the stencil made by the typewriter, allowing us to print cards. We would then roll the printed cards through the typewriter and add subject headings (in red of course) and added entries to the tops of the cards and voila! A full set of cards.

It's unbelievable how labor-intensive everything was. We still used all these artifacts back in 1986 when I started, and one of the first things I convinced our district to do was to let us join OCLC and get printed cards from them. The big worry was what would our students and staff do without red subject headings and (worst of all), no more salmon-colored cards for the nonprint items in our libraries!

Times have certainly made things easier. Thanks for the memories!

Kevin Roe
Fort Wayne Community Schools
Fort Wayne IN 46802

Received from Kay C. Schlueter on Nov. 2, 2011

I used to use a Polaroid camera mounted on a camera stand with a special lens to shoot pictures of NUC (National Union Catalog) entries for items that did not have any LC card availability. The camera would be mounted lens-down and the NUC would be placed under the lens. You would then adjust the distance and focus, snap the picture, pull out the film, and wait for it to develop. After that, the photo would be cut and mounted on library card stock, photocopied with enough cards for all the headings (on large card stock sheets, which then had to be cut), then sent to student workers to type headings. Early days, subject headings in red, then later in black but in ALL CAPS. This was in the early 1970’s at Southern Illinois U.-Carbondale, Morris Library.

Lots of people would be at the NUC area searching for catalog copy, and sometimes lots of pics waiting to develop would by lying around on tables. Sometimes you had to wait your turn to snap a photo. We had one cataloger who was fluent in Vietnamese (he was not of that culture), and if he were searching the NUC for copy and found some transliterated entries, he would put all the accent marks in their proper places in the NUC itself! Very thorough. Even if it wasn’t the copy he wanted!

By knowing this “early days” stuff, it makes me feel somewhat empowered. I’m sure many people who have risen up through technology and recollect the “old ways” feel a bit empowered over new people just entering the field, no matter what it is.

Kay C. Schlueter
Vermont State Colleges
Waterbury, VT 05676

1. Photograph from Cheryl Youse. Other photographs are from the author.

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Dean for the School of Education 2

Q> It’s been four months since you were appointed dean and now that your first semester is close to half over, what can you tell us about the registration process and getting started?

A> All beginnings are hard because one does not have the experience of the past school year cycle. No matter how much one knows about the process, living through it has no substitute. This semester from what I am told was much easier and faster than previous years. The vast majority of returning students were able to register online or on the computers in the registration areas. We worked with faculty, IT staff and administration to remove as many barriers to the whole registration process. As a result we had no fires to put out.

Q> Now that you are in to the day-to-day operations how has the preparation as a librarian helped you in your work? How have the skills transferred?


1) The reference interview experience taught me how to listen. Much of the time people do not know what they exactly want. I learned to use probing questions and friendly conversation to help people formulate better questions. With better questions I can help them find satisfactory answers.

2) I have learned to be exact. When someone wants a card, I make sure that I am giving them the correct card. When someone wants help I try to figure out the best way to help.

3) I learned to be flexible. The first answer may be technically correct, but not what they needed. The first answer or plan may not work and so a second or third plan is needed. I learned to think both inside and outside the box.

4) Nothing beats having access to the best and most up-to-date knowledge. I have helped people get the right knowledge so that they can appear to be experts. One of the frustrations when I was a librarian was that I couldn’t always find information about the college. I learned from being a librarian our task is to get readers to the right information. I have improved the way information comes and goes to the dean’s office. Previously we had a hard time keeping track of the offices for adjunct faculty. Now the list of all faculty and staff is now available online for everyone—faculty, staff, and students. This list has done much to show the administration cares and values students and all faculty. Any teacher or staff person can help a students find a professor or office. The security desk has a list of all activities so that they can direct people to the correct place.

5) We are a learning based institution. My background in teaching and scholarship directly translates to how I can help teachers improve their classrooms and students improve their quest for knowledge.

6) No one is an expert on everything. I seek help and advice from anyone who could help. When I was a librarian I sought advice from my colleagues in my library and through my professional contacts. As a dean I consult and build consensus. I know from experience where to go for answers. I learned that I before making a decision I need the correction information, knowledge and facts.
Q> What is the hardest type of decision to make?

When the information needed for the decision is limited, ambiguous, or involves conflicting interests, the decision is hard. When there is a choice between difficult outcomes, the decision process is hard. When the mayor needed to balance the budget, jobs were cut. So far I have not needed to make decisions to cut jobs. So far I have only needed to tell people “no” when it was a question of time or limited resources.

When the questions are well defined, the decision process is easy. Sometimes I won’t tell people what I think is best answer; I’ll help them clarify the situation and let them decide.

The second interview with the newly appointed dean of the University’s School of Education. Part 1 appeared in this blog on June 1, 2011. Note: this interview is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real university, college, school, or dean is strictly coincidental.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Positive News I

We all seem to complain too much. It is just more fun to complain than to tell a story of someone who is happy when we just do our normal everyday job. Two weeks ago a librarian on the LM_net listserv suggested that every Friday we share some good news. The next Monday the college vice-president’s office asked us to share any good news. I had an “aha” moment. I should stop kvetching and show something from the library in a positive light.

On Tuesday September 27 a reader wanted the book, The Warmth of the Other Suns. I helped her find the book in the catalog and sent her to the stacks to find the book. The book was not on the shelf and so she asked for help. I couldn’t find the book either. Since it was a recent book I checked the new book shelf and it wasn’t there. I told her that when we found if I would put it aside. She went away before I could get her name. Five minutes after she left I found the book. I told the other staff to give her the book if she returned. She didn’t return for a week. When I gave her the book she was so happy. She told us the reason she felt connected to the story because her family had a similar story. I took her picture but she was too modest to show her face.

On the same day while walking through the stacks I found another woman sitting and reading a book on the floor in what I thought was an uncomfortable position. I told her that we have lots of comfortable chairs to sit in. She asked, “Can I check out these books?” I said. "Of course, just take them to the circulation desk and present your school ID. She was so happy that I took her picture, too. She was too modest to show her face.

I prepared a display of the pictures of these happy readers.

On another day a reader asked for some books on mental illness. After trying to find out more about his quest all I could do was a keyword search on “mental illness.” One of the first books on the list that I thought would help him was, Nursing diagnoses in psychiatric nursing. He asked honestly without any sarcasm, “What’s nursing?” I explained “nursing.” I tried another approach when he said that he wanted to know why and how people become mentally ill. I gave him a couple of medical books including, The Harvard guide to psychiatry. When he asked “What’s a Harvard?” I almost lost it. I pointed him to the area where the books were shelved and he didn’t return. I think he was trying for a self diagnosis. Can any college student be that clueless?

Next week I’ll look for some more satisfied readers.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I rarely hear administrators talk about infrastructure. Infrastructure includes all of the administrative, logistics, and back-office support that allows faculty to do their jobs. Last week a vendor supplied database was turned off because the bill was not paid. The librarians knew the bill was overdue yet the approval process is so slow the check was never cut. This is an example of how the bean counters are out of touch with how administrative tasks intersect with instruction. An organization can not be excellent without a management philosophy that sets the table so that teachers can teach and other staff can get their jobs done. Good management clears the way for staff to do their jobs with excellence.

Another example occurred between a teacher and her students. The teacher announced to her class that a document was behind a tab in Blackboard. The teacher did not enable the tab. This is a class management issue that was under total instructor control. Perhaps the teacher never learned enough about Blackboard to do the task? While we may complain about district office, management starts at the lowest levels.

Excellence can only occur when we ask ourselves, "How is this task demonstrating excellence?" If the task is not completed with excellence how can the next one be improved? How do we get to "yes?"