In 1952, the Seeburg jukebox company brought to market a set of "library units" for use in homes and in commercial/institutional applications where the coin operation and song selection features of a standard jukebox would have been inappropriate. Examples of this might be factories, office buildings, and private clubs. The library units were also used to provide automatic record playing at certain radio stations during hours where a human operator was unavailable.
The library unit is, essentially, the record-playing guts of a 200-selection Seeburg jukebox mounted in a simple wooden case with a glass front. Inside the case with it is a monaural phono preamplifier, integrated with a power supply for the mechanism. A fancier "Console" version of the library unit also included a power amplifier and speakers in an attractive floor-standing unit. There was also a "Custom" version of the LU made with only the front panel of the case and its glass door, for applications where it was to be mounted flush directly into the wall.
The mechanism is placed inside the case backwards, so that the side usually visible to the customer in the coin-operated Seeburgs of the period is hidden from view, and the side usually visible only to the jukebox serviceman in a coin-op -- the side from which one loads and unloads all the records -- is in front.
A series of small levers across the front of the unit, underneath the record slots, determines whether the mechanism will stop and play the left ("A") side or the right ("B") side of the record as it passes, or both, or neither. Thus, the operator of the LU can determine all at once which selections will be played, but the order in which they will play is determined solely by which slots the records are placed in: it plays all the selected A-sides as it moves from slot 1 to 100, and then all the B-sides as it travels back from slot 100 to 1.
Later in the decade, Seeburg brought out versions of the LU that played twelve-inch 33 1/3 rpm records with a more elaborate, electronic, record selection system based on the "Tormat" wound-core memory units developed for their coin-op jukes.
The indisputable authoritative web reference on Seeburg Library Units is Seeburg Ed's, and those seeking further information on these machines are encouraged to explore that site.
The machine playing here at SeeburgRemote.Net was manufactured in 1953. It has a flip-down glass door with a knob (others of this era had either a keyed lock instead of a knob, or a three-panel sliding glass door). It came with a set of black hairpin-shaped legs made of steel, though currently it resides closer to eye-level, leglessly, atop a large lateral file cabinet. It's pretty heavy.
It also came with a small brown vinyl book with a hundred numbered pockets behind little cellophane windows. As owner of the LU, you were meant to slip those small paper slips, typically displayed in coin-op jukes showing the artist's name and the song titles, into each of the little pockets so as to keep track of which records are in each slot without having to resort to, say, a notebook and a pencil.
As discussed on the FAQ Page, this LU has undergone some modifications that permit it to play records in stereo and at a lighter tracking force than that of the original tone arm and monaural cartridge it shipped with originally. Then of course there's all the internet stuff.
In the iPod age, what is the value of a mechanical device for playing records?
For me, there's almost a life lesson in it. Records, as you play them, change. They wear. They sound ever so slightly different every time they speak. They don't last forever. You can pack them away in a box and think about them as these abstract objects you own, or you can bring them out and play them, destroying them gradually in the process.
And this box, with all the moving parts, made so long ago, yet it was so magnificently well-designed that nearly sixty years later, it operates as well as (better than?) it did the day it rolled off the production line. Nothing else in my home as old as this gets daily use, and I would be hard-pressed to name anything that does that I can forsee being in this kind of operational condition a half-century down the road.
Then there are the records. Some of these are, yes, "hits" popular enough to have been digitized and copied a million times over. They'll be around as long as data is read. But at least a few of these, perhaps there are only copies numbering in the dozens, maybe hundreds. How many of them have been heard by anyone in the last year? The last decade? Sometimes as I listen to these records, I try to imagine the whole experience of everyone who was there the day that the sounds drifting through the air hit the diaphragm of the microphone and begin their long, inexorable march through time towards obscurity, towards immortality, towards archeology. Singles, especially, were so often the work of artists and labels too poor (or unsuccessful) to merit the investment of the long-play album.
One of the peculiaries of the LU is that, loaded with records, it's nearly impossible to tell or remember what's in each slot. And they all look alike -- the one that sold millions is indistinguishable from the one that sold a hundred-fifty. So the natural inclination is to set all the levers on to play both sides (this is my standard practice, at any rate). This means that in a given listening session I am as likely to hear something famous as something obscure, and I will hear as many weird, throwaway, rough B-sides as polished, fussed-over A-sides. In a time when on-demand media permits us to hear exactly what we already know we like at any given moment, there's something to be said for interjecting some surprises, for experiencing things that popular culture has imbued with value because of their fame alongside those which fame has left behind despite their intrinsic merit.
So in the simple act of turning this machine on, which I can do in tremendous luxury from anywhere in my house -- or indeed, practially anywhere on the planet -- by sliding one finger across the trackpad of my notebook computer and giving a gentle tap, I feel this confluence of the lasting and the ephemeral, of the remembered and the forgotten, of the history of man and the life of a man.
And occasionally I have to pull it away from the wall and brush fuzz off the needle, so there's a small amount of exercise involved as well.