I have a soft spot for card catalogs. Not just nostalgia or resistance to technology, but an appreciation for a functional tool and its physical manifestation. Looking up a particular book, and using that as a starting point to browse from, the whole process of it. The size and shape of the cards, distillations of the books they represented. The first step to the stacks. And the cabinets, oh how I would love to have some of those! With or without cards!
Of course it all takes space, and depends on the input, the creation of the cards, which all made less and less sense with the rise of computers. Libraries changed with the times, and I’ve adapted. I can’t remember the last time I really looked for something in a card catalog. Sigh. At many places, even after new books were not being added to the card catalogs, the existing catalogs were kept. But then at a certain point of out of dateness, they get phased out. Not necessarily without debate though. I’m not the only one who likes the catalogs, but not everyone agrees.
In the new San Francisco Main Library, artists Ann Hamilton and Ann Chamberlain used obsolete cards to cover the principal diagonal wall on several levels of the building. The cards have notations by librarians and staff, and were also annotated by more than 200 library patrons. It’s a great visual element and a fascinating peek into the world of books.
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