The seeds of Brodart took root in 1939, when a young Columbia University student named Arthur Brody invented the plastic book jacket cover. Involved with architectural photography as a student, one day Mr. Brody washed the emulsion off some film and folded it around his books for added protection. When the covers' popularity grew among his fellow students, the plastic book jacket cover was officially born, as was Brodart. Today, the covers are used to protect the original paper jackets of library books, giving them a longer shelf life and increasing their circulation.
The company flourished, and in 1954 began manufacturing a complete line of furniture. Expert workmanship has allowed Brodart to expand and diversify this product line, and today Brodart's library furniture is sold to schools, universities, and libraries worldwide. In the 1950s Brodart expanded into book distribution, and now offers books from thousands of publishers to libraries and schools, and stocks its warehouse with more than two million books. Many of these books are shipped to libraries completely shelf-ready--fully cataloged and processed to meet library specifications. These additional services, pioneered exclusively by Brodart, greatly reduce a librarian's workload.
An innovative half-century has passed since Brodart's early beginnings. As professionals, Brodart employees do not accept a mediocre solution to a customer's needs and continually strive to provide libraries with the best possible service and products.
The concept of leasing books to libraries actually began as a rental program through retailers more than 50 years ago. Nelson McNaughton founded and ran a commercial lending library, distributing his books through a variety of retailers. Day rates to customers were a nickel a day, divided between the storekeeper and McNaughton. Despite his considerable number of retail lenders he struggled to make a profit. All his books were covered with Brodart book jackets, a detail that would later play a significant role in the company he ran.
During a store closure in West Virginia, McNaughton arrived to discover his books were about to be auctioned, and was told to either remove his books or forfeit them. With no truck to cart the books away, he asked the local library to store the inventory for a short time.
As it turned out, the library hadn't been able to afford new books for some time and was pleased to get a few. The librarian asked if she could lend the titles and offered to collect the drugstore's books that were still in circulation. The library would collect any money it could and McNaughton would permit book loans, free.
A month later, McNaughton found that the receipts from the drugstore's customers were amazingly high. He concluded that storekeepers had been cheating him but that librarians were honest. The library's circulation was amazingly high, too.
Eventually, the businessman was prepared to reclaim his books, but they were in great demand, so he struck a deal in which the library collected lending fees and he took a commission on the service. In short order, word spread around West Virginia about this remarkable new program, a commercial lending library in a public library. In no time at all, McNaughton had 13 library accounts. Upon his retirement, the McNaughton program became a division of Brodart Books & Library Services.
In the move from retailers to libraries, McNaughton made the commitment to develop the best popular reading programs for the library market. The commitment is the same today, as evidenced by the thousands of subscribers in North America, Australia, and military installations throughout the world.