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Dead medium: the library card catalog
From: awagner@darm.SOS.STATE.NJ.US (Albin Wagner)
Source(s): reporter Peter Hardin, Richmond Times-Dispatch Monday, February 17, 1997

"WASHINGTON == A library card catalog from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond is poised to become history at the Smithsonian.

"It's a commonplace item you probably never thought about, an increasingly outmoded relic like the manual typewriter.

"And it's quietly slipping into another era, replaced by computerized catalogs.

"A rescue effort mounted on the Internet, however, will guarantee that the card catalog doesn't fade without a fanfare. (...)

"The National Museum of American History is the proud new owner of the handsome oak cabinet, bought by the seminary in the 1920s. (...)

"'I think there already are some youngsters who have not seen a card catalog,' remarked Alva T. Stone, head cataloger at the Florida State University law library in Tallahassee.

"She said the widespread use of card catalogs 'was undoubtedly a significant factor in the evolution of American libraries from 19th century repositories staffed by curators to the democratic, accessible, and user- responsive institutions' of today.

"By e-mail, Stone contacted a Smithsonian official in March about the idea of preserving 'a representative card catalog as an artifact of what we call 'modern' civilization.'"

"When a positive reply and specifications came from the American history museum, Stone used an Internet library network to find a prime candidate in Richmond.

"Peggy Kidwell, a specialist at the American history museum, said she was interested in an oak unit that had 60 drawers and book cards, that was near Washington and could easily be moved there, and that was made by the Library Bureau.

"That company was one of a group that banded together to form Remington Rand, one of the first manufacturers of computers, Kidwell explained.

"Enter the UTS library. It had an oak, Library Bureau card catalog containing cards that spanned decades, ranging from hand-written to manually typewritten.

"'It is so representative. And it is unusual that it's in such spectacularly good condition,' Kidwell said.

"The seminary was about to move to a new library and wasn't taking its card catalog, according to head cataloger Thomason. UTS uses a computerized catalog in its $11.8 million, nearly 300,000-volume William Smith Morton Library. (...)

"In December, the American Library Association published an article by Alva Stone of Florida State, in which she wondered: 'Will all of the card catalogs disappear from the face of the earth?'

"Not yet, said the Smithsonian's Kidwell.

"Card catalogs still are used in many places, she said, and she recently heard from a company that makes a limited number of them. (...)

Albin Wagner, CA, CRM

Chief, Bureau of Records Management

New Jersey Division of Archives and Records Management

2300 Stuyvesant Ave., CN 307

Trenton, NJ 08625-0307 USA

e-mail: awagner@darm.sos.state.nj.us