In August 1904 the India Office Library in London took delivery of a pneumatic dusting machine from Charles J Harvey of Kidderminster. Thomas Walker Arnold, Assistant Librarian, urged the Clerk of the Works to sanction the purchase of Harvey's machine in time for the cleaning of the Library scheduled to begin on 1 September.
Arnold put forward three points in support of the purchase.
• The machine would prevent the enormous amount of damage being done to the bindings of books by the cleaners and messengers banging the books together to get the dust off. The annual bill for binding was ‘considerably swollen’ because of this.
• The ordinary method of dusting with a cloth caused coal dust to be smeared over the bindings and made the books impossible to clean properly afterwards. The dusting machine used suction and would prevent vellum and other light-coloured bindings from being spoiled.
• The machine would allow for the removal of dust and dirt from the shelves. Current cleaning methods merely transferred the dust from one part of a room to another as very little dirt was carried away in the dusting cloths.
In September, the purchase of the pneumatic dusting machine was agreed at a cost of £6 6s less a 5% discount.
Charles J Harvey had registered the patent for the dusting machine. His notepaper shows his address for telegrams as ‘Inventions, Kidderminster’. The machine removed loose dust by suction and sent it to a calico bag. A lever worked the bellows (labelled E on the drawing above). Air suction was created at a nozzle (A) and a flexible tube was fitted to this. Differently shaped cleaners or brushes could be attached to the other end of the tube depending on the surface to be dusted – table tops, shelves, the tops of books.
The India Office Library was not alone in its concern about dusting large numbers of books. In 1901 the librarian of Aberdeen University wrote a report on the systematic dusting of books, having corresponded with several of the older libraries in Britain. Some librarians believed that cleaning could do more harm than good, especially to old and fragile bindings.
The British Museum had a staff of twelve employed entirely with dusting books. It took two years to complete a circuit. Each book was brushed with a damp cloth and then wiped with a dry cloth.
The Bodleian Library at Oxford employed a special staff of six men once a year to dust the books most exposed to dust. It had used pneumatic dusting machines but found they offered no advantage.
At Trinity College Dublin one man dusted books continually, with a tour of the library taking a couple of years. A pneumatic brush had been tried there but something stronger and more durable was needed for a collection of 250,000 volumes.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
IOR/L/SUR/6/11/12 Purchase of a pneumatic dusting machine for the India Office Library.
Frank James Burgoyne, Library Construction, Architecture, Fittings, and Furniture, Volume 2 (London, 1897).
The Aberdeen Daily Journal 20 December 1901 - British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast.