Op-ed colulmn: Old library date due cards told tales, made good bookmarks

One of life’s minor disappointments is taking a book out of the library and not having a date due ca

One of life’s minor disappointments is taking a book out of the library and not having a date due card in the back that can be used for a bookmark or other purposes.

Actor Kirk Douglas was born and grew up in Amsterdam. I moved here in 1978, about 40 years after he moved out. Since there were many old books in our library, I thought I might come across his signature on an old date due card, but no matter how many books I checked, I never found one.

A librarian at Milam Junior High School in Tupelo, Miss., was luckier than I was. She found a date due card in “Steel’s English Fairy Tales” with Elvis Presley’s signature on it. She found it in 1956, nine years after Elvis had taken the book out when he was in seventh grade. Her find is the oldest Elvis signature in existence and very valuable.

I’ve recently begun collecting date due cards, not just ones with famous people’s names on them. Date due cards are one of the many casualties of computerization in libraries. Actually, they still exist, but they can hardly be called cards. They are slips of paper, spit out of a printer. Instead of individual cards for each book, the slip lists all of the books a person is borrowing. Like many things replaced by new technology, they are more efficient but also less interesting.

Nuggets of information

The date due card I am thinking of was made of card stock, not paper. The book’s title, author and Dewey Decimal information was printed or written on the top. The rest of the card contained lines with spaces to record the borrower’s name and the date the book was due to be returned. There were variations, but this is the card I remember most.

When a person borrowed a book, he or she had to sign each card. One thing I enjoyed doing when I borrowed a book from the Amsterdam Free Library in the past was to look down the list of previous borrowers. Because Amsterdam is a relatively small city, sometimes I would recognize a name and feel a sense of kinship with that person. While the slips of paper that replaced date due cards protect your privacy from other readers, they actually invade your privacy to a greater degree. Because libraries scan every book you read into a database, and because the Patriot Act and FISA allow the government to examine what you read, librarians have to turn the information over to the FBI if requested, although some librarians have refused to do so.

Apparently, autograph collectors never discovered date due cards as a source for their collections. I have searched in vain for collectors of date due cards and for date due cards for sale on the Internet. I did find one date due card for sale on eBay for 69 cents. However, it was of little interest since it had never been used.

Handy bookmark

Date due cards were often used for other things than they were intended for. Their main secondary usage was as a bookmark. Now that they have become literary artifacts, they have found other uses. Arizona artist Natalie Schorr has a wonderful series of art called Library People. Each drawing is done on an end page from a discarded library book. She doesn’t use a blank end page. Instead she draws the person on a page that has a date due card pocket or some other library ephemera. I hope some day to add one of her works to my collection.

In his story “Nicolette and Maribel,” Ricco Siasoco tells of a third way date due cards have been used. “Other times on the Esplanade, her sister Menchie or other kaibigan in the Philippines interrupted her thoughts, and she would then remove the Date Due card from the back of her library book and compose a list of 25 things to share with them about her quiet life in the States.”

The most interesting story about date due cards I have ever read, however, I found in an article by Carol Tarsitano in Illinois Periodicals Online. Ms. Tarsitano is program director at the Portage-Cragin Branch of the Chicago Public Library, which specializes in Polish language materials.

Letter from Poland

On one occasion the library received a letter “. . .from Poland with our book pocket and date due card enclosed. The man informed us that he had purchased a copy of one of [Czeslaw] Milosz’s works on the black market in Krakow, Poland. He regretted that he could not return the book to us since it had cost him a week’s salary.”

A man who would pay a week’s salary for a book, not to add to a rare book collection, simply to read it, is my kind of reader. The date due card he returned is one I would be proud to add to my collection.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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