Photo: Patent searching circa 1960. Searchers (junior patent attorneys most likely) flip through stacks of paper patents in metal troughs located in the Patent Search Room.
The IP Mall, an online resource center for intellectual property information provided by the Pierce Law Center in Concord, NH, has digitized a fascinating collection of Patent Office Research and Development Reports from the 1950s and 1960s. The reports describe the Patent Office's early attempts at "mechanizing" or automating patent searching using coding schemes and early "punched card" computers.
Photo source: How to Obtain Information from United States Patents, Washington, DC: U.S. Patent Office, 1964.
I'm the librarian for research services in the Engineering and Science Library at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. I've been working with patent information since 1991, including seven years at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I believe that the dissemination of patent information is a public good and should be promoted, especially in the education of science and engineering students.