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picture of a white building from the corner
Exterior view. Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington, D.C. . (Carol M. Highsmith Collection/Library of Congress)

Pic of the Week: How to Get a Book at the Library of Congress – 1902

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The pneumatic tubes which are used to send book requests at the Library are objects of interest to a number of us here.  They have been featured in at least 2 blog posts – one from the Law Library’s blog and before that in my post A Short Visit from a Noted Gentleman where I featured a photo of those on deck 12 of the Adams Building book stacks.  Today’s photo is of the tubes at the Book Service Desk in the Science & Business Reading Room.

I ran across an April 1902 Washington Times article that described how to request a book at the Library of Congress.  Despite the fact that it was written over one hundred years ago and many things have changed, shades of that system still remain, including the pneumatic tubes.

It is by means of the extremely ingenious mechanism of the pneumatic tubes and the automatic book-carriers that this quick service is rendered possible. The pneumatic tubes are operated by compressed air, shooting short leather cases two inches in diameter in a few seconds between stations. These tubes run from the central desk in the main reading room to each of the nine decks or stories in each stack.

Having received a reader’s ticket, the desk attendant in the stack finds on the shelves the volume wanted and places it on one of the automatic carriers which are constantly moving on an endless chain, and which traverse the entire height of each stack. The carrier delivers the book at the reading room desk to be handed to the reader. When returned by him it may be at once sent back to the stack by the same machine.

While many requests are now done via the Library of Congress Automated Call Slip system, I hope these tubes don’t go away anytime soon.


  1. Just like the bank!

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