Technical Services

"Someone once observed that only one-tenth of the iceberg is visible, because nine-tenths of it is below the surface," wrote City Librarian John Hall Jacobs in NOPL's 1940 Annual Report. "The same principle applies to a library where many essential processes are never seen by the public using the books." Jacobs was referring to the myriad jobs performed behind the scenes by cataloging, processing, bindery, and acquisitions staffs. In 100 years, the nature of this "hidden" work has changed radically as New Orleans Public Library has moved from quill pens to computer terminals, but the contribution made by staff in the technical services divisions remains the same. These are the people who bring us the books (and serials and videos and tapes and CD-ROMS and microfilm) and make sure they are arranged so that we can find them. Without them, the more public operations of the Library would grind to a complete stop.

The Binding Department in the Lee Circle Main Library , 1949. Until 1989, NOPL maintained a fully equipped bindery. Today, magazines, journals, paperbacks, and other soft-cover materials are bound off site by a commercial bindery. Some of the equipment shown in this photograph, however, is still owned by the Library and is on display on the third floor.

The number of books now on the shelves is 35,243, of which by far the largest number were purchased before 1860. The total number of books in the library other than fiction calculated to supply the just demands of the public for educational purposes does not exceed 8000, most of which were purchased for the Fisk Library during its management by the Louisiana and Tulane Universities. It is clear that an expenditure of not less than $10,000 is necessary to bring the collection up to the level of the reasonable requirements of the public. [Annual Report, 1896-1898, p. 2]

Two pages from the original manuscript shelf list of the New Orleans Public Library, which opened its doors to the public on January 18, 1897. A number of the books listed on these pages are still in the Library's collections.

The building up of a great and useful library must depend not on gifts of books, but on judicious expenditure of money in the purchase of special books required in the different departments of work. [Annual Report, 1896-1897, p. 2]

The exact date of this manuscript subject catalog, showing the magazines held by the Library, is unknown, but it is believed to date from the first decade of the Library's existence. Separate catalogs in thirteen volumes were kept for other genre and, in pre-card catalog days, served as a record of the Library's holdings.

The printing of the general catalogue makes progress not as rapidly as might be desired by the general public, but in proportion to the growing ability of the staff to master the system in use. [Annual Report, 1898, p. 5]

A page from a 1925 order book, used to record books and journals purchased for the Library. (Note the 1925 prices!) The Order Department--now the Acquisitions Division--was not formally established until 1940; before then, books and other materials were ordered by individual departments.

In the month of October, the donation of the heirs of the late Simon Hernsheim was handed over to the Board of Liquidation and the sum of $10,000 became available for the purchase of books. [Annual Report, 1902, p. 1]

This finding list from 1902 alerted patrons to new books added to the Library's collection. At this time, the Library still had no card catalog, and these lists were sold for five cents to aid patrons in locating books and other resources.

The importance of the New Orleans Public Library has been recognized by its being made one of the fifty (50) depositories of the catalogue cards of the Congressional Library, which has undertaken to supply the fifty (50) chosen libraries a complete set of the author cards of its magnificent collection, so that when completed there will exist within the walls of the new building the means of discovering the titles of all the books on any subject which are to be found in the National collection. [Annual Report, 1903, p. 2]

In 1910 the Library began to publish a quarterly bulletin containing a classified list of all books added to the collection. This publication, from 1929, lists books added to the Adult Non-Fiction collection.

Our library is wholly without a catalogue of any kind. Even the stock of finding lists, now published in nine separates, is about exhausted. [Annual Report, 1907, p. 12]

The Works Progress Administration provided invaluable service to the Library during the 1930s and early 1940s. Among their many contributions, WPA workers performed clerical jobs at the Main Library and in the branches, assisted in children's programming, created indexes to historical journals and local materials (still used today), drove the bookmobile and built the Alvar Branch. During this period they also did much book repair and binding in the Library. The invitation shown here gives some idea of the variety of contributions made to the Library by WPA employees.

The cataloging department of the Central Library not only handles all books for the main collection, but does all the technical library work for the branch collections. [Annual Report, 1908, p. 16]

The Cataloging Department, 1949, at the Main Library, Lee Circle.

We endeavor to rebind all of the most popular books in order to avoid the loss of circulation entailed by sending them to the binder. Usually a book sent to our binding department is returned to the shelves within one week. We reserved and set in the original or new covers 1,103 books and mended 2,551. [Annual Report, 1910, p. 14]

Staff member Gladys Peyronnin at the Lee Circle card catalog, ca. 1940s. In most large libraries, this familiar library icon is now defunct, replaced by powerful, efficient, and lightening-quick automated systems. The card catalogs in the Central Library were retired in 1988.

The use of order cards, as used in general by libraries, has been instituted so that the staff participates in selecting books; the Department heads and Branch librarians have the major responsibility for making suggestions for purchase. Suggestions are invited from the public and filled whenever possible. [Annual Report, 1936, p. 16]

The Central Library catalog was originally a dictionary catalog, with all cards--author, title, and subject--interfiled in one huge alphabet. In 1974, the catalog, then containing more than a million cards, was divided into separate author, title, and subject sections for easier use and maintenance. This poster may have been prepared to explain the new system.

All agencies need more books. Over 14,000 were added during 1939 but many more are needed to strengthen gaps. These should not be purchased hurriedly, but should be the result of careful consideration. [Annual Reports, 1939, p. 29]

In 1975 the Cataloging Division computerized its procedures by hooking into OCLC, the world's largest and most comprehensive bibliographic database. Today, OCLC allows thousands of libraries access to catalog records of some 32 million items submitted by OCLC member libraries and also helps libraries locate, acquire, and loan materials.

A very popular addition has been the addition of the American Lending Library, by subscription, to the Main Library and a number of Branches. This is a free service to the patron and supplements the regular library collections. [Annual Report, 1958, p. 9]

NOPL's first automated system, ALIS, was installed in 1981. Circulation went online first, late that year in several branches and in early 1982 at the Central Library. By 1985 PAC (Public Access Catalog) terminals were available for public use, and patrons were introduced to the marvels of automated searching. This brochure was prepared to help the public make the transition from the familiar card catalog to the automated system.

The installation of an automated purchasing service (BATAB) which began in December, 1973, brings the computerization of book ordering procedures to the NOPL, resulting in the elimination of manual bookkeeping and the maintenance of book order files throughout the library system. Ultimately, the public will benefit by getting current books much quicker. [Annual Report, 1973]

In 1988, NOPL replaced ALIS with a more powerful system, Dynix, an automated management system with modules for selection, acquisition, cataloging, circulation and public access searching. The Dynix system has been continually upgraded since its initial installation and now makes it possible for the Library to provide dial-up access from personal computers and free Internet access in-house. In this photograph, three young patrons from St. Monica School inspect a Dynix PAC terminal at the Broad Branch, 1993. Dynix currently contains records of some 800,000 items.

The acquisition of new books and best sellers for recreational reading was revamped. The library system, which had rented its "Popular Reading" books, switched to buying them. Special "rush" acquisitions and cataloging systems have been instituted to get new books to the public as quickly as before. [Annual Report, 1978]

The signing of a contract with DataPhase for an automated library system was the most significant event of 1980. The automation of circulation, including reserves, overdues, etc., is going to improve library service immensely. The data base includes complete catalog information and, with additional terminals and more computer processing power, will eventually replace the card catalog. A City appropriation of $263,700 is paying for the system.... [Annual Report, 1980, p. 3]