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How to Label a Book – Pic of the Week

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Today’s Pic of the Week is another in an occasional series featuring odd and/or outdated library equipment.

A photo of an outdated label cutter that looks like a stapler opened for maintenance.
Can you identify this object? Photo by Betty Lupinacci

We found the above-pictured object in the deep recesses of a supply cabinet.  Unfortunately as is often the case, I am the last remaining Law Library staffer to have seen or used this item. It harks from the dark days before we had automated label printers for adding call numbers to books.

We used to have to type individual labels onto either pre-cut sheets or continuous label stock.  The latter came in narrow rolls of thermal material with a thick backing.  After typing the label you would feed the roll into the cutter pictured here, press the handles together and voila – you had a label ready and just needed to peel off the backing and attach it to the volume!

Only that wasn’t really the end of the process.

This label stock, as I mentioned, was thermal.  It had to be applied to the book with heat if you wanted it to stay attached for any length of time.  So we also had a supply of small irons with long handles that you would use to iron the label on to the book.

A photo of a label feed with the labels "LL RR" being cut.
Cutting labels. Photo by Betty Lupinacci
A photo of a label on the spine of a book that has been applied by heat. The label says "KF 3989.A75 B37 1995 Copy 2"
Heat-applied label. These do not come off without a struggle! Photo by Betty Lupinacci.











As I am not the most adroit person (which I blame on being left-handed), I burned my fingers with frightening regularity or would drop the iron onto my lap, scorching my clothing.

No one was happier than me when these devices were retired in favor of our turbo-charged/self-cutting/non-thermal label printers.

Ain’t technology grand!

Comments (7)

  1. Betty is the best and a treasure! Send her my greetings and love! – Marcelo

  2. I used those! But they were right-handed

  3. OK, I’m old! The labeling process described here was the essence of my first library job at the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington, IN. I was one of 2 library school students who spent an academic year labeling law books and documents…as well as the occasional loose leaf filing task. Like the author, I too am left handed but am apparently thankful that I didn’t have to wield an iron to adhere the label…I got to use a hot pad that allowed me to lay the spine on the pad and move to and fro to melt the adhesive and thereby permanently affixing the label to the book for all of eternity. I still suffered the occasional burn from overheated oozy adhesive. Ahhh, the good old days.

  4. I’m still using these. The iron-on adhesive is the only thing I’ve found that will stick well to cloth bound books. I print lables in with the thrmal printer and place the label between the backing and the clear tape and iron it on using a teflon shield to keep from burning the label. We don’t buy many cloth books so it’s not used very often.

  5. Can anyone tell me the easiest way to remove these? We are undergoing a relabeling and found several older books that seem to have these type of labels. They are extremely difficute to remove and leave dried on residue. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • I’ve had the best luck with heating the labels up again and then peeling off carefully. Otherwise I’ve had to use exacto knives and scrape very carefully.

  6. Does anybody know if these irons had a particular name?

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