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Revolving Books Stacks as 19th Century's "Library of the Future"?


Here's another intriguing image from the Wisconsin Historical Society Image archive. This sketch of a revolving book stack circa 1900 is absolutely mind boggling. The caption reads: "Sketch of two huge round revolving book stacks with an elevator. This was apparently a 'library of the future' idea and was probably never actually built." Check out the full image on the WHS site for more detail.

The first thing that struck me was its sheer size. Good lord, this thing is a monster. How many books could this thing supposedly hold? Just look at the size of the guy in the elevator.

And what of the visionary sketch-artist? Just who was W.D. Lewis? Neither I nor the kind folks at the Wisconsin Historical Society could find anything about him/her.

Then I wondered, was this a common-place notion of the library of the future? A giant book storage facility where volumes would be pulled upon request? A quick search in Google Books turned up an 1888 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for the subject "Libraries" which reads:

A speedy supply of books is ensured by the use of the automatic book delivery contrived for the Harvard book store... At the delivery-desk a keyboard shows the digits which combine the various shelf marks; and the number of the book wanted being struck upon it, is repeated at the floor on which the work is located where it is sought for by an attendant and place in a box attached to an endless belt, which carefully deposits it on a cushioned receptacle close by the delivery truck.

But it seems that this vision was not looked well upon by all. From a 1881 article Library Journal article:

If the library of the future is to be a Harvard "book-stack," six or eight stories high, with the book cases two feet four inches apart, not warmed in winter, and from whose prison-cells readers are to be excluded, the question arises whether such a minute classification of the books upon the shelves, as we have been making, is necessary... My preference , however, at present, is not running in the direction of "book-stacks." I still hold to a minute classification of the books upon the shelves, and to giving to scholarly persons, when it is necessary, the opportunity of access to the shelves under conditions of ordinary comfort.