This question of library handwriting is an exceedingly practical one
February 17, 2017 11:43 AM   Subscribe

In September 1885, a group of librarians spent four days discussing major issues for libraries, including handwriting. Though typewriters had been commercially available for over a decade, librarians were still handwriting their catalog cards to catalog their expanding collections, but their writing was without consistency . Thomas Edison was cited for his described handwriting style for telegraph operators (paywalled source), and from this, Melvil Dewey and his crew of “a dozen catalogers and librarians” hashed out the rules of library hand, a precise, almost mechanical style. If you enjoy that summary, you may enjoy The (Lengthy) Context and History of Library Hand, with ample notes and references.

If you'd like to jump directly to the writing examples, the Internet Archive comes through again with A Library Primer by John Cotton Dana, published in 1899, and the 1920 edition's chapter on Ink and Handwriting: Typewriters, which opens by stating:
The notes and instructions in this chapter are not out of date, for much of the writing of cards and lists in libraries is still done by hand. But the typewriter has come to be an essential part of the equipment of even the very small library, and typewritten lists and cards are far better than handwritten.
Regardless, this, the third edition, retains its examples and rules for Joined and Disjoined Hand, the two writing styles that were supported by American Library Association.
posted by filthy light thief (25 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
But if you're more interested in the history of telegraph operations, here's How To Write Telegrams Properly, a digitized copy of A Small Booklet by Nelson E. Ross, 1928.

While looking for information on Thomas Edison's note-writing style, I found How to Take Notes like Thomas Edison from, seven points that may make your note-taking more effective, as Edison used to do.

If you opened up A Library Primer and wanted to know if there's a modern version of a guide to starting a library, ALA has library guides, including Setting up a Library.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]

I feel like library schools these days are neglecting handwriting. Which is just as well, as, otherwise, I would have never graduated.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:18 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

Same, GenjiandProust. They might as well have asked me to freehand in Quenya.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:28 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

"Library Hand" sounds like a type of RSI.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:36 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]

I'm an old library hand, from the Rio Grande, but my legs ain't bowed, and my cheeks ain't tan.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:43 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]

This script appears to be a source and inspiration for range of cursive-esque typewriter fonts!
posted by mwhybark at 12:52 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]

Good find, mwhybark! I was actually looking for "joined hand" and "disjoined hand" fonts, to no luck. It seems I should have instead looked for Olympia fonts and recreations of similar machines.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:23 PM on February 17

Surprised there isn't a common TrueType Font called "Library Hand."
posted by straight at 1:25 PM on February 17

I know, it would be easy enough to create one based on the examples in A Library Primer. I might just make two tonight.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:47 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]

That slight backward slant of the specimens in the Wiki article reminds me of my father's and sister's left-handed style.
posted by jamjam at 1:51 PM on February 17

"Library Hand" sounds like a type of RSI.

Or, possibly, a martial arts move in a Louis Cha novel. "The Elegant Southern Librarian attacked with Library Hand following up with the Unstoppable Cataloger's Admonition. The Northern Beggar leaped back, astonished."
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:01 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]

The Elegant Southern Librarian attacked with Library Hand following up with the Unstoppable Cataloger's Admonition.

Followed up by The Emphatic Librarian Finger.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:57 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

Followed up by The Emphatic Librarian Finger.

Don't you make shushing jokes in a thread full of librarians unless you want to discover what a shushing really feels like, that's my advice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:02 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]

/finishes checking out books and skulks out
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:11 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]

my shush is a killing word
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:37 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]

A find by Simon Beattie: A 1927 guide to "Library script" by a librarian in the Soviet Union.
posted by metaquarry at 4:48 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

Oh fantastic! I'd like to know much, much more about this. The article talks about a lot of scripts I hadn't heard of, including telegraph hand and civil service hand. Library hand is so neat and legible!

My research currently involves reading and transcribing about 2,000 pages of court martial transcripts from the late 19th century, and I've noticed certain trends in the handwriting. The transcripts themselves are in one kind of script, but occasionally you'll see a letter or something attached as evidence, and those are often very clearly written in an entirely different script (usually very formal-looking Spencerian). It hadn't occurred to me to think about what those differences meant, exactly. I'm wondering if part of an officer's education might have involved learning some form of civil service hand for official documents.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:49 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]

On mobile so this may be in the links up top, but here's a lovely TrueType font of Library Hand which, if you ask nicely, you can get for free:
posted by wenestvedt at 7:26 PM on February 17

Towards a history of the typist and stenographer in the 20th-century American film studio:
Like literary manuscripts, draft film scripts are complex artifacts of the process of correction and collation, but the end product is arguably much more complex. The motion picture relied not only on actors and directors, but specialist technicians who worked with sets, props, cameras, lighting, and sound equipment to craft a coherent, continuous narrative. Histories of film and screenwriting have thus focused on the way the text and format of the script evolved to coordinate this effort. Scholars ... have described the evolution of the screenplay from the silent to the sound era, with a special focus on the development of the scenario, continuity, and master-scene scripts and the kinds of information contained therein. But in doing so, they’ve neglected the roles of the stenographic departments and the technological specialists employed by film studios and their relationships to the scripts they produced.
Erin Schreiner, Please Return to the Stenographic Department, Journal of the History of Ideas Blog (4 January 2017).
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:25 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

  … it would be easy enough to create one based on the examples in A Library Primer

The scan is just about okay quality, but the joined version will be a nightmare in any of those “scan your handwriting” tools. Even with the simple disjoint version, the descenders are absurdly long compared to modern type.

I should have a crude disjoint version banged out soon.
posted by scruss at 9:57 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I tried searching for examples of telegraph hand and came up empty-handed. I covet these styles so much given my entirely indecipherable handwriting.
posted by Naib at 11:28 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]

A longish article on the relationship between Edison and library hand (with a sample of Edison's handwriting from his days as a telegraph operator):

David Kaminski: The Varieties and Complexities of American Handwriting and Penmanship: Library Hand
posted by bluffy at 8:23 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

So did you make the font filthy light thief?

Great post, as usual.
posted by DynamiteToast at 8:49 AM on February 20

flt didn't but I put up LibHandDis in Font Library. Could use a bit of a clean-up, but surprisingly okay.
posted by scruss at 5:11 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

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