The cards


A LIBRARY card is a ticket to the infinite variety of life experiences to be enjoyed in the theater of the mind. Today, that ticket is wallet-size, with your name on it and what is known as a "zebra label" (those funny parallel stripes that "speak" to a computer). When you borrow a book at the Pratt, the librarian whisks a "light" pen over the stripes on your card to record the transaction for the library, and then stamps the book's due date on a sticker affixed to the back.

Which brings up the question asked by Baltimoreans of a certain age: What happened to the old library card?

And by library card, they do not mean the wallet-size card you carry around today. They mean the card that was in use through the early 1950s. It was a full 3 1/4 inches wide and 6 inches deep. When you brought your book to the borrowing desk, you presented the book and your card. The librarian then took what was called a "dating pencil" -- a pencil that had a dating stamp, a small contraption with revolving numbers -- affixed to it and stamped your card with the appropriate date. That date in those days was two weeks hence. (Today, it's three weeks.)

The card was placed in a special pocket affixed to the inside back cover. You could always check the green stamping on the card to see the date your book was due.

A child whose library card appeared to be filled with stampings was one who was thought to be smart -- or at least a good reader. In fact, some children knew that such a crowded and obviously much-used library card would impress teachers and parents (if not classmates), and they would use the standing so acquired to advantage.

The left side of the card was for the stamping of fiction books; the right, for non-fiction. Adult cards were beige; children's card were orange.

All of that hand-charging was followed by "Recordek photo-charging" (early 1950s) and automation (computers) in the early 1980s.

That vintage library card with its (to a child) immense size and manual stampings and fiction and non-fiction columns is as gone as the times (1940s, 1950s) that knew it. Put it down with a bottle of Gunther Beer, a ticket to see the Beatles at the Civic Center and a transfer to the No. 26 street car to Bay Shore.

Today, kids who want to impress parents and teachers with their reading will have to find some other way.

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