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History of the Office and Office Equipment: A Resource Guide

Office Management & Administration

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Office. 1935 or 1936. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

New equipment brings with it new ways of working and new ways of managing offices. The second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries saw an increased need to preparing people to work in a modern office environment, while also helping businesses modernize themselves. Publishers like the Alexander Hamilton Institute which published their Modern Business series increased publishing of a variety of material targeted to modern offices. These were multi-volume sets covering all sorts of topics from banking, insurance, and accounting to the more general volume Organization and Management.

There was also a rise in professional schools teaching business skills through classes and programs to teach skills like typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, etc. These programs, sometimes referred to as "junior business training," taught all things useful for those who wanted to work in offices and also published materials on office management. There were other sources that were designed to be all-purpose office manuals that were quite popular. Individual businesses, particularly large ones, likely had their own way of doing things, but researching them can still be a useful source of information for those skills and procedures that were considered essential. Technology in the second half of the 20th and early 21st century has made changes to the workplace happen even faster. While newer trends like hotelling and telework have history, there are related emerging concepts and trends like coworking or coworking spaces. The rise of technology has also introduced new ways to work and introduced the concept of the digital nomad—those people aided by the use of new technology, who can work from anywhere in the world and are not tied to a physical office.

This section of the guide is intended to provide some sources for researching the changes in managing offices. It is not a complete accounting of resources related to the history and future of office procedures and trends. To understand how things were done during specific time periods, look for books written at that particular time period. Beyond books, searching for articles in academic and trade publications will also offer more specific insight into particular companies, places, and industries that may not be as easily understood by looking at more general sources.

Information and discussion on the office and future of work can happen in all sorts of places. Look at associations and groups that have an interest in related areas. For example, commercial real estate literature will focus on physical spaces and needs, while associations like Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the American Psychological Association are interested in workplace issues and productivity.

Books & Periodicals

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Internet Resources

Below are a few links looking at the past, present, and future of the office.