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When a book was borrowed the librarian took one of the reader's borrowing cards and removed the book's own card. The two cards were filed together this date was stamped in the book. These cards are tickets organised in trays, by date of issue, and within date by the key on the card.
When the book was returned, the user's card was removed from the file of the day indicated by the stamp and given back, and the book card was replaced in the book. Whilst the filed cards revealed which user had a particular book, or which books a particular reader had borrowed, this was only true whilst the loan continued. Afterwards no record of the transaction remained.
A reader can quickly see how many more books they can borrow (before handing any in) by the number of cards they have remaining. The librarian can look at the tray and instantly visualise the number of transactions that day.
The system is based upon cards and cardboard/paper slips: it is a low-technology approach yet proven over 100 years to be robust and scalable to work even in large libraries. Training can be completed in a small number of hours, and the cost of implementation is mostly centred on labour. Therefore, it is still a suitable solution for small loan libraries where financial resources are limited, or in locations where a computer based solution is not suitable (e.g. lack of equipment, guaranteed electrical supplies).
There is a lot of manual processing of the cards in the trays. Each day, the issues have to be ordered and added to the trays. When a book is returned, the identification 'key' and date of return guide you to the card location in the trays.
When a book is reserved, somebody needs to check the catalog, and, if the book is not on the shelf, look for the relevant card in the trays. This involves manually looking for the card with the matching 'key' in the trays, sequentially looking in each date until found. A reserved item is flagged with a piece of colored card, so that when it is returned it can be set aside and checked against the file of reservations.
Renewals involve finding the ticket and moving it to its new location in the trays. Typically, a small number of 'queries' will mount up, cases where something goes awry because a card or ticket is misdirected in some way. These may consume quite a bit of time to sort out.
A tray of cards dropped on the floor could prove catastrophic and require a substantial amount of time to re-sort.
The simple, reliable and speedy method was replaced in America by the Newark and Detroit methods and others based on them. The advent of technology within libraries, such as barcode scanners, eliminated card-based systems.
- Gorman, Michael (2011). Broken Pieces: A Library Life, 1941-1978. American Library Association. pp. 210, 4th footnote for Chapter 3. ISBN 978-0-8389-1104-4.
- Sturges P., Iliffee U. & Dearnley J. Privacy in the Digital Library Environment (.doc) Presentation in The Internet: ethics and legal issues & Information services - practice and research., a conference held May 23–27, 2001 in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Section 2.3: "Record keeping in twentieth century libraries" discusses the privacy aspect of the Browne system.
- State Library of Queensland, Country Lending Service (CLS) manual, 2006. Section 3.1 "Issue systems" contains a description of the Browne issue system.