Once there was a book…

How libraries declare ownership


From The Diverting History of John Gilpin by Randolph Caldecott. 1878, Frederick Warne and Co., London. 39h15241

Ex-Libris is a Latin phrase meaning, “from the books.” Usually, this is some for of declaration of ownership either in the form of a bookplate or, in this case, binding, former call number, stamps, and the check-out card. Often the Baldwin Library will take donations of withdrawals from other libraries of material they no longer need. These books are interesting because they illustrate the different ways in which libraries express or declare their ‘ownership’ of a book.

In Special Collections, books are not marked up in this way so as to preserve the original item. If you visit a special collections reading room you will see very small, unobtrusive and often non-permanent ways the book has been marked for ownership. However, books that circulate from libraries can have stamps in multiple places, a specific type of call number, possible rebinding, and even old check out cards and folders that were glued in the back of the book. The purpose in a circulating collection is to make sure everyone can easily identify that this is NOT their book.

This particular book from Wayne State University Libraries was a duplicate that was withdrawn. As you notice from the picture above, this paperback has been bound inside a special hardcover type material that would protect the small book on the library shelf. While this protects the book, it does make it more difficult to read because the binding creates ‘gutter issues.’ The ‘gutter’ of a book is where two pages meet (the crease in the center, if you will), a gutter issue is when a book is bound too tightly therefore making text difficult to read.

If one looks at the picture below, this is a great example of the library marking its ownership claim. This is the title page from this book, and there are three distinct markings.


The first markings that catch one’s eye are the two stamps over to the far right, trying not to intrude on the text. One stamp states, “Board of Education, City of Detroit,” and the other “Library of Wayne University, Detroit, Mich.” These are typical marks for libraries to use. They often stamp their books in multiple places (besides just the title page). In this case, we have two stamps because the book was used before Wayne University was founded when the college was run by the Detroit Board of Education. It then received a second stamp when the college became a state university.

The second marking is simply a handwritten note within the Library of Wayne University stamp indicating that the book was transferred from the binding department. In this way, the library preserves the chain of where the book has gone. The Third marking is the call number, here j (for juvenile) PE C127d 2c Apr. ’39. This tells where the book is to be shelved and when it was acquired/cataloged.

In older books, one of the hallmarks of library ownership was the typed check out card with call number, title, and author and then lines for who the book was issued to. The card lies inside a special folder that is glued to the inside back cover of the book. These types of cards are no longer used by libraries, but they are fascinating to study.


Here we see that the card originated from the Education Library, which was a separate library at Wayne University, and the book was marked as ‘Children’s Lit.” But was is most intriguing is that you can see the check out dates and who checked out the book at what time. With the case of this book, all check outs were by woman from the College of Education during the month of July, 1949. Was this book used in a class at that time and students were required to read it? Was it part of an assignment that particular July? We will, of course, never know the answers to those questions, but they are compelling marks of the hand and of library ownership and history.



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This entry was posted on August 18, 2014 by in Paratexts and tagged , , , , .
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