The Permanence of Paper

March 16, 2018

Roughly ten years ago I worked for New York Public Library. 2008 was, as you might recall, a year of great economic strife thanks in large part to the housing market crash. The ways in which libraries responded to this emergency varied from state to state, but in the case of NYPL there was one topic that kept coming up again and again. Now that digital literacy was on the rise and more people were comfortable online, the library came to the not entirely ridiculous conclusion that going paperless was the way to go. So what if they’d produced lists like 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing for 106 years in print form? Surely the wave of the future commanded that we abandon all things paper, right?

A decade later I still marvel at the fact that folks declare the death of paper with such regularity. As any Collection Development Manager worth her salt will tell you, folks like tactile objects. They love digital too, don’t get me wrong, but what I’ve discovered is that even more than paper or electronics, people love having a choice. Sometimes they’re in a mood for a digital reminder. Sometimes they want a piece of paper about an upcoming program. [All this proves true for ebooks vs. print books, by the way. As the great Stephen Fry once said, “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”]

With all this in mind, I’ve started a little collection of my own. Often I’ll stumble across old paper slips stuck in books. When this happens, I like to keep them in a little file of miscellanea. Here then are a couple of the more choice items I’ve come across in my travels.


Be honest. Is it weird to be nostalgic about old bookmarks?

Almost looks like it was produced on a dot matrix printer.

Ah, the old overdue notices sent in the mail. It’s from 2009 so it can’t possibly be typewritten, but it sure feels that way when you hold it.

I find this slip rather adorable. Care instructions for a DVD. Awww.

My oldest find. I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that this checkout slip has dates from 1912 and 1914 on it. Wow.


Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

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