At GPO, not all data is digital

HOSPITALS ARE NOT the only users of pneumatic delivery systems.

When data is managed on paper rather than disks and drives, tube systems can be the easiest way to move it.

The Library of Congress had a pneumatic system that ran to the basement of the Capitol Building, according to the Architect of the Capitol's office.

The system was first used in 1964.

Nobody remembers how long it was in service, but it was dismantled when construction began on the new visitors' center on the east side of the Capitol.

The Government Printing Office still uses pneumatic tubes to move some of the copy it processes in its mammoth facility.

GPO publishes a huge volume of material each day, including the Federal Register and Congressional Record, and although people are accessing more of its products online, computers have not completely replaced paper.

'We're a print shop,' Schwank said. 'Everything we get is printed.

And once you print it, you have to go back and compare it to the original copy.' That means print proofs and original material have to be transported to a reading room.

Proofreading on a computer screen doesn't cut it. It is occasionally done when there is no time to print a proof, Schwank said, but it is not an effective way to do the job.

So paper must be moved through the four-building, 33-acre complex.

The tube system at GPO is a short, point-to-point link that moves some of the copy from a keyboarding room to a reading room for comparison.

It is a remnant of a larger system built in 1941 ' when 1,800 people worked in typesetting ' that connected the composition and typesetting rooms with the proofreading room.

A second system was used to move work orders for the carpentry, metalworking, plumbing, machinist, electrician and other shops that keep GPO operating.

E-mail has replaced the work orders, and clerks make about 50 trips a night transporting most of the printed material between the keyboarders and the proof room, where 20 proofreaders work per shift.

However, pneumatic systems could be making a comeback at GPO. One clerk recently retired, Schwank said, and 'I have a request from the current proof room for a new tube system.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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