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A staff member recently asked me when VTLS, the Library’s first Integrated Library System with an online catalog for the public, was installed. While searching for that answer, I came across an interesting tidbit in the 1985-1986 Virginia State Library Annual Report. A paragraph in the Circulation Section report noted that “the section was confronted with the problem of obsolete equipment during the year.” The State Library used a pneumatic tube system to deliver call slips for materials to the stacks and the system and the tubes were wearing out.

If you’re not sure what a pneumatic tube is, just think about the drive-thru at a bank. You put your paperwork in the tube, push the button, and the tube zips off. A few minutes later, your money or deposit receipt, etc., comes zipping back in the tube.

In 1985, the State Library was a few blocks east of our current building, affectionately known by staff as “the old building” or “the WPA building.” I asked around to see what people who worked there thought of the tubes. Tina Miller, Access Services Manager, worked in the Circulation Department and said that the system worked well. Arnette Williams, Stacks Lead Technician, said it was kind of fun. “They would shoot the tube up, we’d get the request, and shoot the tube back down.”

The tube system didn’t make it to the new building, where requests were sent to the stacks using the VTLS online catalog. I remember staff talking about the tubes when I began working here in 1998. Spoiler alert – you might just see the real thing in the Exhibition Two Hundred Years, Two Hundred Stories, opening on January 24th in celebration of the Library of Virginia’s 200th anniversary.

Ginny Dunn

Archives & Library Reference Services Manager

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