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From the 16mm Film Collection: the Library, a Family Affair

Oct 6, 2011 11:24 AM | 0 comments

In the webpages of this blog, we have never missed an opportunity to praise the efforts of our mother institution, the Brooklyn Public Library.  Be it by cheering the library's legacy of bookmobile visits to underserved communities, by drawing attention to the efforts of our staff in difficult economic times, or by noting our various initiatives and collaborations with the Multicultural Internship Program, Project CHART, and Brooklyn Connections, we are unfailingly willing to toot our own horn.  Today's post is no exception. 

From the 16mm film collection, we present The Library: a family affair.  This 1952 film (divided into two parts for easier viewing) was made by Brooklyn Public Library in collaboration with the Board of Education.  It takes the viewer on a tour of the library's many services through the story of one "typical" nuclear family, the Greens.  Although the dramatic pacing is on par with that of an afternoon nap, it is a little gem of a film that shows a myriad of now-antiquated library technologies in action.  At the 9:55 minute mark, we are introduced to the Photocharger, a device that was invented by a librarian in the 1940s, and would take a photograph of a patron's card, the book's card, and a numbered and dated transaction slip to track circulation.  Now replaced by our computerized check-out system, the Photocharger was still in use at the library as late as the 1980s.

The Telautograph machine makes its appearance at the 10:07 mark, used in the library setting to remotely call up books from the storage decks.  This analog precursor to the fax machine used telegraphic technology which was, by 1952, rather old hat.  The Eagle made note of the telautograph's invention in 1888:

As a side note, the telautograph's inventor, Elisha Gray, is perhaps most famous for his claim to have beaten Alexander Graham Bell to the invention of the telephone.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the controversy as it unfolded through the closing years of the 19th century; the newspaper's 1901 obituary of Elisha Gray casts the inventor's life as a tragic story of ingeniousness thwarted by bad luck and dirty business dealings.

Aside from its gee-whiz adoration of 1950s library doohickery, The Library: a Family Affair also represents the creative efforts of local institutions working in collaboration.  The scenes that took place in the Central Library were, of course, filmed on site, and the family's few branch visits were filmed at what appears to be the Carroll Gardens Branch:

The home interiors of the film, where Mr. Green toiled so uselessly over his little wooden boat, were shot at the Brooklyn High School for Homemaking, just down Eastern Parkway from the library, at 901 Classon Avenue (now the site of Clara Barton High School).  At this all-girls school the curriculum was, not surprisingly, centered around the domestic arts -- childcare, cleaning, sewing, food preparation, even upholstering -- with the idea that these skills could be applied in the home or in the workplace. 


At right, students care for toddlers in a "laboratory nursery school" in 1946. 




Below, students learn out to arrange sheets on beds. 

The school was trumpeted, by the Eagle, as the first school of its kind in the world, unique for its laboratory approach to home economics.  The Eagle featured the school in its always interesting "What Women Are Doing" section in March of 1946, remarking that "within the school itself are home units of every size, business offices, a doctor's office, hospital rooms, sewing rooms..." and on and on -- all simulacra of functioning  workplaces designed to prepare students for the real-life scenarios they would encounter once employed.

But I digress.  You are no doubt dying to learn if stodgy old Mr. Green ever swallowed his pride and admitted that the library was a useful institution, and so I present the exciting conclusion to The Library: a Family Affair: