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The Passing of the Pneumatic Tube System in the Law Library – Pic of the Week

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When I arrived at the Law Library in February 2006, I was amazed to see that book requests were sent down to the closed stacks using an old pneumatic tube system. Patrons would look up information on the books from the online catalog and complete paper call slips. Staff would verify the information on the slip (sometimes checking the information in the old card catalog) before placing the slips in the tubes and sending them down the pneumatic tube system to the closed stacks, four floors below us.

In 2011, with the institution of the Automated Call Slip System in the Law Library, patrons began to request books online, though some materials (particularly microfiche) continued to be requested with paper slips via the pneumatic tube system. Over the years, these requests have dwindled and in March 2020, when the Library closed due to the pandemic, they essentially stopped. Late last month, our colleagues in Collection Services informed us that they were no longer receiving pneumatic tubes. They had bricked up the pneumatic tube station.

I asked my colleagues for comments on the passing of this system and/or memories they had of using it. Here is what they had to say.

Our blog colleague Betty remembers the system when it was new:

The building was still fairly new when I started, so the pneumatic tube system was all shiny and the tubes in pristine shape. I thought it was great because it reminded me of similar systems in the department stores in Pittsburgh that the sales clerks used to order stock. And, of course, as a child, I had always wanted to play with them. But no matter how often I was working at the desk, the loud thud of a tube arriving from the stacks never failed to make me jump.

Emily and Jim remember demonstrating the pneumatic tube system to staff members’ visiting families. Emily also remembers using it to help entertain the staff members’ children – along with some colored pencils.

Our colleague Luis does not remember the tube system as much as the work involved in the procedures for completing call slips with patrons. He notes remembering “the exactitude needed to convey the relevant bibliographic information on the little call slips that we sent through the tube.”

I am giving the last word to my colleague Beth: “Like all great librarians, she had a great shhhhh (yes, that was the white noise from her air leaks, but it will be missed).”

Photo of a pneumatic tube station with two doors, one for incoming and one for outgoing, and a tube.
Pneumatic tube station in the Law Library Reading Room / photograph by Betty Lupinacci.

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Comments (2)

  1. I remember the system from the other side of the desk – when I used to research in the Law Library in the 1980s, fill out paper request forms, and wait patiently for the magical request and delivery service.

  2. I think it’s time to revive this technology! Thank you so much for the blog post.

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