literally above the library). So I was delighted to see a review in the Washington Post discussing a new book about... card catalogs.
This book about card catalogues, written and published in cooperation with the Library of Congress, is beautifully produced, intelligently written and lavishly illustrated. It also sent me into a week-long depression. If you are a book lover of a certain age, it might do the same to you.“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogues of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendiums from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.Now, waxing nostalgic about card catalogues or being an advocate for the importance of libraries is a mug’s game. You can practically feel people glancing up from their iPhones to smile tolerantly at your eccentricity. My response to this, after an initial burst of profanity, is to explain (again) why libraries are essential to narrowing the inequality gap, and why the Internet is not an adequate substitute for books or libraries.“The Card Catalog” is a heady antidote to the technophilia threatening our culture. The book is especially illuminating on the powerful, if overlooked, properties of the humble catalogue card, some 79 million of which were printed annually at the system’s peak in 1969. Each one is a perfect melding of design and utility, a marvel of informational compression and precision.
After college, while I was in graduate school, I started my own "card catalogue," visiting a university library weekly to transcribe references in professional journals onto literally tens of thousands of 3"x5" lined cards, which I filed in cabinets in my office - a handy source for information in the preparation of lectures. Then the internet arrived...
I'll close this post with a quote from Annie Proulx:
I mourn the loss of the old card catalogs, not because I’m a Luddite, but because the oaken trays of yesteryear offered the researcher an element of random utility and felicitous surprise through encounters with adjacent cards, information by chance that is different in kind from the computer’s ramified but rigid order.
I've requested this new book from our local library (only 4 people ahead of me on the wait list).
Photo (of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library card catalog) via Librarianista.