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New Book Pays Tribute To The Library Card Catalog

I worked in college and special library technical services for quite a few years before I completed both college and my Master’s program. I was a cataloger, and my tools were dedicated OCLC terminals and hand typed catalog cards (the IBM Selectric was also indispensable in those days). I created my catalog cards, filed my cards on top of the metal rods, checked my work multiple times, and then, pulled the rods and dropped the cards into place, and then checked them again. A new book about the card catalog reviewed on NPR brought back memories of how much I enjoyed the meditative and focused qualities of cataloging – it was quiet, it was precise, it required accuracy, focus and subject matter knowledge, and it opened doors to the world of print collection library research. I am grateful that I acquired these skills and practiced these tasks way back when, as they have served me well throughout my professional life.  With all the daily hurtling through social media trying to sort out fake and alt stuff from facts. librarians continue to stay on point, all be it with new more expert and comprehensive tools and skills, and expansive subject matter expertise that contributes to the growing body of knowledge that is reliable, accurate, and yes factual.  So, knowing this basement area of LC well, I am sharing this article about a book that will no doubt make you too think about how you used to work, and the valuable work you both provided and enjoyed – NPR: “If you do a Google search for “card catalog” it will likely return Pinterest-worthy images of antique furniture for sale — boxy, wooden cabinets with tiny drawers, great for storing knick-knacks, jewelry or art supplies. But before these cabinets held household objects, they held countless index cards — which, at the time, were the pathways to knowledge and information. A new book from the Library of Congress celebrates these catalogs as the analog ancestor of the search engine. There’s a huge card catalog in the basement of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. “There’s tens of millions of cards here,” says Peter Deveraux, author of The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures. “It’s a city block long.” Some highlights from the Library of Congress’ collection include cards from Walt Whitman, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (you might know him as Mark Twain), Margaret Mitchell, James Baldwin, William Faulkner … the list goes on and on. Some of the cards are handwritten, others are typed with cross out marks and notes scribbled in the margins.”

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