TAMPA — For the first time in history, it allowed a human to tap a backspace key and make a mistake go away.
Called "Selectric II," it was conceived when Richard Nixon was president, when IBM made typewriters and when a hand-typed card catalog tracked every book at Tampa's downtown library.
Librarians got machines for the public, giving each a room of its own with walls the shade of an avocado. The workhorses spit out labels for spines of books and stamped Dewey decimals on paper cards. They typed resumes, got people jobs.
But sometime around the election of Ronald Reagan, IBM teamed up with a 32-person company called Microsoft and started selling "personal computers" for $1,565 apiece.
In 1982, Time named the computer Man of the Year.
After that, computers got lighter, cheaper. Libraries stocked up, monitors aglow.
No one watched as vandals slipped into the avocado rooms and did wretched things to typewriters. Soon they were kept behind locked doors.
Four public typewriters became three. Then, two. One.
Then sometime last week, the typewriter hammered over the same spot again. And again. Its ribbon refused to advance. Even the backspace key could do nothing to help.
Librarians rushed to find a second typewriter, one they'd kept hidden in case this one broke. But it, too, refused to comply.
If people asked — and not many did — librarians sent them half an hour away to Ruskin, where the last working county library typewriter remains. They called a repairman who gets maybe five jobs a month and takes payment only in paper checks. For $60 plus parts, it will be good as new.
Until then, the downtown library's last typewriter sits alone behind a locked door, shrouded with a paper sign, which in big, bold letters reads:
Typed on a computer.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.