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Caught My Eye by Katina: An Ode to the Card Catalog

by | Dec 14, 2022 | 0 comments

An Ode to the Card Catalog is by Mary Kay McBrayer and appears on the Messy Nessy website.

Card Catalog at the Library of Congress

Before books were easily printed and accessible to nearly everyone, before they even took the form of books specifically, there was a different story. Information was scarce in its written form, and so scribes and scholars developed a meticulous system for organizing libraries of tablets. That’s right: the oldest known form of organizing books predates the books themselves. We have, of course, come a long way since then. Depending on your age, you might remember the tiny envelope with the stamp card in the back of your library book. That, friends, is a remnant of the Dewey Decimal System, a relic of the card catalog used in libraries for 200 years. In the age of the internet, one would think that the obsolete card catalogs have disappeared, but true to form, collectors dedicated to organizing written volumes have turned to collecting the organisation forms themselves.

The Library of Congress still holds its entire (paper) card catalog, which is currently gathering dust in the basement, essentially a relic abandoned by modern society. Supposedly, they keep it there for older patrons who occasionally use it, but the catalog remains an important historical archive.

“As of 2015, the Library of Congress site says, “You might be surprised to learn that we still sometimes use card catalogs in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room, where our cards typically lead to photographs, drawings and other visual materials, rather than books. While much of the content on the cards has been converted and added to our online catalog, some unique indices are still in use today by librarians and researchers alike.”

“If you’re interested, you can still visit the Library of Congress Card Catalog (while it’s still there).

“Similarly, you can visit the California Historical Society Headquarters in San Francisco. It’s a former hardware store, but now it’s the official home of California’s history, complete with a catalog of its contents.

The Young Men’s Institute Library in New Haven, Connecticut is one of America’s oldest private membership libraries. It has a unique card catalogue with its own organisational scheme and a rather eccentric catalog system invented by librarian William Borden. One source says, “Under Borden’s scheme, fiction is categorized by its subject matter, and books on nihilism and socialism share a common call number.” …”

(Please click here if you are interested in reading the entire article.)


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