You may be asking yourself, Who is Charles Cutter? A librarian who held positions at Harvard College Library and the Boston Athenæum library, Cutter (1837–1903) developed the Cutter Expansive Classification system, parts of which are still in use today. He was a founding member of the American Library Association and is also a member of the Library Hall of Fame. (Yes, there’s such a thing.)
In 1883, Cutter published an infamous article imagining what visiting a library 100 years in the future—in 1983—would be like. In this eerily prescient excerpt describing a reading room, he talks of a “key-board” connected by a wire to the librarian’s desk:
From the newspaper basement a lift took us to one of the reading-rooms. These rooms were narrow, to ensure perfect light at every desk. The windows ran to the very top of the room and occupied more than half the wall space. The desks had every convenience that could facilitate study; but what most caught my eye was a little key-board at each, connected by a wire with the librarian’s desk. The reader had only to find the mark of his book in the catalog, touch a few lettered or numbered keys, and on the instant a runner at the central desk started for the volume, and, appearing after an astonishingly short interval at the door nearest his desk, brought him his book and took his acknowledgment without disturbing any of the neighboring readers.
Read the fascinating article in its entirety here. And let’s wish the imaginative author a Happy Birthday!