A History: The Wheel of Information Keeps Spinning

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By Brian Manning, Telephone Reference Service

Call the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Telephone Reference Service (TRS) with a question—ranging from the correct spelling of "insurrection," to what the heck is in scrapple?—and librarians are waiting to answer your questions using both computers and books.  But while computers are prone to their glitches, fusses, and viruses, there is a tried-and-true partner for these information detectives that is spinning into its 45th year of operation: the information Wheel (a.k.a. “information carousel,” or “Lazy Susan”). 

The Wheel of Information, 1967
The Wheel of Information, 1967.
Click to view larger.

TRS began as a independent department in October of 1967 with the purpose of giving patrons a ready-reference service, as well as to transfer calls that need more in-depth or specialized research to the appropriate subject department. The Wheel was custom built in 1968 by local Acme Visible Records, Inc. in conjunction with the needs of the librarians in TRS. It is one of the first of its kind in the United States, and has been used as a model for other library systems wishing to build a similar tool.

The Wheel stands at the center of the TRS workspace, with four computer & phone work stations branching-off of its radius. Imagine it standing over six feet high and holding up to 800 books on five tiers, and you get an idea of the Wheel’s impressive stature. (Each tier is able to spin independently of each other, allowing for smoother operation in a multi-person work area.) Like any tool the information Wheel makes the TRS librarians’ job easier by being a centralized area for quick access to reference books, which is still a necessity in this modern age because the internet does not have a reputable answer for every question.

A perusal of the Wheel’s contents today would make any polymath delighted: they are general and wide-ranging, and include books from the major subject fields, as well as popular categories, such as local interests.  The main qualifications for a book to be included are: the book should have a good index; should contain short, concise information; and, of course, should be a reputable reference source in relation to its topic.  Thus, today you will find the current 22 volume World Book Encyclopedia and the classic Joy of Cooking among the Wheel’s diverse collection.

Amongst all of its years of spinning, and the information Wheel has never needed to be serviced, which is a testament to its construction.  The Wheel has proven itself to be an essential tool for the TRS for these many years, and will probably survive the computers currently being used by the librarians today.

If you are interested in making your own Lazy Susan bookshelf for your home or office, check-out The Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney.

Or put the Wheel to use by giving TRS a call with your question at 410-396-5430.

The Wheel of Information Now
The Wheel of Information Now

Great piece! We couldn't resist featuring it on the pencil blog: http://www.pencilrevolution.com/2012/08/wheel-of-information-at-the-pratt-in-baltimore/
Posted by: John( Visit ) at 8/27/2012 2:27 p.m.

Thanks, John! Viva la revolutions!
Posted by: Brian at 8/27/2012 3:29 p.m.

I found this post via John's post. I wish my library had a wheel. I have a suggestion that, I admit, would take some work: when so many people go no further than Wikipedia in trying to get an answer a question, posting a list of all 800 volumes might be a great way to remind library users of the variety and value of print resources.
Posted by: Michael Leddy( Visit ) at 8/28/2012 10:25 a.m.

That's an excellent idea! I'd volunteer to help with that this fall!
Posted by: John( Visit ) at 8/28/2012 3:11 p.m.

Great homage to The Wheel, Brian! And yes, not EVERYTHING is yet on The Internet!
Posted by: Tom at 9/6/2012 3:17 p.m.

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