Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 106 Years Ago

Magazine article American Libraries

This Month, 106 Years Ago

Article excerpt

THE LIBRARY COMMUNITY was abuzz with news of the Rudolph Indexer, a device just invented by Alexander J. Rudolph, a first assistant librarian at San Francisco Public Library.

His boss, John Vance Cheney, thought the creation would "amount to something like a revolution" in public access to library catalogs. Rudolph declared that "experimentation has satisfied the cataloguers of this library that there is a saving of time and brain labor greater than was anticipated."

Veteran librarian Charles Ammi Cutter bought the pitch. In the August 31, 1893, Nation, Cutter claimed that it deserved to be called "the coming catalogue." But Cutter did not mention in the article that he was negotiating with the Rudolph Indexer Company for a position in which his own classification scheme, nearly completed, would play an important role.

How did the Rudolph Indexer work? Through a glass plate mounted at the top of the machine, the library patron could view 175 catalog entry cards at one time pasted on a pressboard sheet. The machine had the capacity to hold 70 of these sheets on an endless chain, thus giving the patron access to more than 12,000 records simply by turning a crank. Cutter liked it because it gave the patron "the satisfaction of seeing many titles at the same time, and did not compel them to pick over the cards one by one to find the desired title."

For a variety of reasons, however, the Indexer never caught on. At the November 13, 1893, meeting of the Massachusetts Library Club, members discussed it and thought it either too expensive or too large; some complained only a few people could consult it at any one time. …

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