Wonderings: Card Catalogs

Throughout the discussion of work on the library, I have found that everyone has a basic opinion on the card catalog. There is no middle ground, no one who could take it or leave it. The first opinion is that they should have been gone yesterday or the day before, and onto a better, brighter, less handwriting intensive future. The second opinion is that computers and OPACs have their place, no question, but that’s no reason to also ditch the card catalog.

From what I can gather, the card catalog love stems from a few things. Some love the look and feel of the old oak, the heft of the drawers as they search among the cards. It adds a tangibility to the research and makes the researcher feel more integral to the process– they are fully in control of their search, and connections are made, or not, as part of their thought process. Others just love the look and nostalgia of the catalog, never mind the maintenance.

Unfortunately, we are a one person library with over 45,000 monographs in the collection. For those who have not run a card catalog, there is not just one card per book– there are cards for title, author, and any subject headings (or keywords) that you want the patron to be able to find tied to the work. Particularly with academic works, those subject headings lead to a vast number of cards. I could spend 80 hours a week for years bringing the card catalog back into form as a working, accurate, well oiled machine, by why do so?

Still, there is something very fitting about having the card catalog standing sentinel in the foyer of the library. One thought I had was to maintain a simply catalog for the special collections– title and author, no subject headings, and the collection is a non circulating collection, so nothing would be leaving the designated area anyway. It would allow us to keep the smaller catalog in use that would rarely have new additions and require minimal maintenance. It might be a good middle road between nothing digital and only digital. Is such an effort worthwhile? For those who love the old card catalogs, what about them do you love and miss? For those who prefer digital, would having the small card catalog for a small, non circulating collection be bothersome? The records could certainly be maintained in the OPAC as well. All thoughts are welcome!

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