Monday, June 29, 2009

Card Catalogs

I have written in the past about cultural artifacts that have disappeared from the scene over my lifetime. Today, I thought about another one that escaped while we weren't looking. I was recording the movie Awakenings, and did a spot check on it. The scene I saw was Robin Williams in a library, searching through a card catalog. I suspect many younger folks today would not know what this is. One of the first things we were taught in the elementary school library was how to use the card catalog, along with the Dewey Decimal System to classify books.

Now replaced by the much more versatile and manageable computer database, the once ubiquitous card catalog has come and gone. I don't know of any library that still uses one, although I would not be surprised if some very small libraries do so.

There was something edifying about the feel of the file drawers, and their collection of data cards inside, typed by a librarian and placed in the correct sequence in the catalog. The procedure was to take a piece of scrap paper and jot down the title and the Dewey Decimal Number, and then proceed to the shelves to find the particular book of interest. It was a skill so critical that it was reinforced in high school as part of the exercise of researching and writing term papers.

So even as we gain new technologies, let's not forget what came before. The sample card here is actually a product of computer technology. I created it at the Catalog Card Generator.

No comments: