Monthly Archives: April 2012

On typewriters and computers

Behold this solitary remnant at the Arapahoe Community College Library of a bygone era: the typewriter. (In case you’re curious, it’s one of those large, clunky-looking electric ones, an IBM Wheelwriter by Lexmark.)

It’s out-survived other relics of the past at the Library such as microfilm, video and cassette tapes, and the card catalog. (Will we be saying the same thing about print books in the near future? That’s a whole topic in itself.)

It sits next to a row of computers, sort of an oddball among its high-tech bretheren.

It’s about the last anachronism left standing, er, sitting, so to speak.

Dad, what’s a typewriter?

It’s what Andy Rooney owned until he died.

Who’s Andy Rooney?

Never mind.

Typewriters actually do have a practical use, unless you’re a collector of celebrities’ typewriters. They’re great for doing envelopes and filling out forms (do they still have those forms with carbon copies?). Not everyone uses online forms. Not every form is available to be filled out online. Maybe that’s why we still have a typewriter at the ACC Library.

Yes, instead of computers, there are still some writers who use typewriters, just as some writers still use yellow legal pads (admittedly a dying breed of writers).

Once I had a patron ask me if we had a user manual for our typewriter. I couldn’t find one. At the time it didn’t occur to me look online, where most user manuals are available for free. Another time, a student told me she needed the price of a typewriter in 1974 for his economics class, to illustrate the rise of the CPI over time (price inflation). After a huge amount of effort, I actually found the answer for her. But I digress…

A Google search reveals that at least a fair number of libraries still have a typewriter for public use. Even Harvard has a typewriter–in the computer lab of the law library. But, in contrast, the Berkley Public Library in Michigan, in its FAQs, states, “Note that the library DOES NOT have typewriters.”

Now, I’m going to pick a bone: if a typewriter is good enough for the library at Harvard, why isn’t it for the University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries? Here’s the rather condescending CU explanation for lack of typewriters in its libraries (I admit, it almost made me chuckle with the same feeling of superiority):

There are no typewriters in the Libraries. We don’t know of any in use on campus. The UMC Reception Desk used to have one available for public use but it is long gone.

 Prior to the introduction of the personal computer in the mid-1980s, these machines — both manual (no power) and electric (powered) were widely used. The rapid adaption of the personal computer led to their drastic, dramatic, decimating decline and dodo-like disappearance.

 Typewriters are primarily seen in museums of technology and in movies of a by-gone era but their spirit lives on in the QWERTY keyboards you use today.

There are still some of us old-timers around who formerly used typewriters, believe it or not. One way you can easily detect these old codgers is when they type text with a computer, they put in two spaces after a period. That’s a no-no in the post-typewriter age. So is underlining words for emphasis. And not knowing how to make an “em” dash. And so on. What made sense using a typewriter doesn’t hold using a word processor.

There’s a book The PC is Not a Typewriter, which explains the fine points of these differences of using a word processor properly in the age of desktop publishing. Following the advice of this book will help make you look like a savvy, sophisticated writer and scholar, and will help you not betray yourself as a dinosaur from the past. A shortened PDF version of these principles put out by a college is at

Yes, these tips are indispensable and important for everyone who cares about how they look in print. Whoops! On second thought, these tips are indispensable and important for everyone who cares about how they look in print. (Yes, underlined stuff should be reserved for links only in this new age.)

P.S. Here’s an interesting library blog from 2007 about typewriters and libraries


1 Comment

Filed under tech tools