Posted by: houwr | 08/17/2012

The Card Catalog: A Not-So-Extinct Species

Here at the library, we receive many types of questions every day.

Card Catalog at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library

From “do you have [insert title] book?” to “when are my DVDs due?,” it’s usually a constant flow of inquiries from those who regularly use our resources and do their best to keep up with check-outs. But at least once a week, we get that patron (or two) who have not visited us in several years, and they come in asking, “Where is the card catalog?” Well, the answer is it’s no longer here.

I know, I know… this is a great travesty and now the library lacks a certain level of charm and ambiance (let the waling and gnashing of teeth ensue). To be honest, I don’t know when the Houston County Public Libraries implemented the change (can any long-time residents help me out here?), but we’ve replaced the endless number of tiny drawers with an electronic OPAC (that is, Online Public Access Catalog) that basically does all the work for you. It saves time and space…and we are quite sure that, after a few uses, you will find it very helpful. Looking for a book? You can visit our PINES OPAC here.

The good news is the card catalog is not entirely extinct. I had the opportunity to chat with librarian Kathleen Kern at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and she informed me that they actually still use their card catalog: “because of the way some of the entries were entered into our online system in the late 1970s, we may have some gaps and inadequate information, so we don’t want to lose that info.” She says that the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago also retains a card catalog, among other research institutions. Hallelujah, it still lives!

So, you may be asking yourself: what’s happened to the majority of the card catalogs that have retired from our nation’s libraries? You’ll be happy to know that many have been revived and repurposed for countless uses. Jeri’s Ode to the Library Catalog suggests using it to store LEGO bricks or as a wine cellar (who knew wine bottles fit perfectly into those little drawers?) among other inventive uses. The University of Iowa also has a cARTalog program.  This is basically an effort to find as many creative uses as possible for the salvaged card catalog cards at UI and generate a sense of community among those who love the card catalog. You may also want to visit the Library History Buff  for even more ideas on how to turn that card catalog into a filing cabinet, candy storage drawers, places for knitting supplies, etc. Oh, and you can purchase your very own card catalog from our good friends Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay, among other online retailers.

If you’d like to extend our trip down memory lane, share with us: what is your favorite recollection of the old card catalog?



  1. I remember my mom would sometimes drop me off in front of the library while she ran a few errands in town. I was excited to have my very own library card (with a metal bar on it – remember those!) Honestly, my least favorite part was trying to find what I wanted in that card catalog. But, when I did find it, it was worth the trouble. Kind of like the feeling I get now when I check off completed items from my list of goals. Could it be the process promoted a certain amount of discipline in me?

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