Sunday, October 26, 2008

Library Memories: Making a Card Catalog from Scratch

Last Sunday I told you about the changes the larger library system wanted to make in our small village library. One of them didn't take: the Dewey decimal system. Yes, it is the standard, but it doesn't always fit the needs of each and every library. Ours was one that it didn't fit. However, one of the suggestions the Rolling Prairies library system made was taken up by Mom whole-heartedly: a card catalog listing each and every book we had in our library.

Fortunately an old wooden card catalog was found someplace. Mom stripped the paint and refinished it, and we moved things around in the library to give it pride of place (and easy access to all). We received a bulk shipment of cards, and Mom and I went to town. Those small cards were tricky to place in a typewriter, so most of them were written by hand. (Or should I say hands? Mom's and mine!) Fortunately we both had good legible handwriting. We made sure we both had plenty of Bic pens, and we got to work.

I have no idea of how many hours we spent setting up that catalog. Most of them were unpaid. Many a Friday and Saturday night saw us locking the outer door to the library and village hall at closing time, making sure the blind was lowered, and getting down to business. Armloads of books were brought up. We carefully notated the information from each book onto the card, as well as the book's location, and I reshelved the books. I put most of the cards into the drawers because I liked filing more than Mom, and I was fast. To this day, my hands still feel the writer's cramp and paper cuts!

Finally all the cards were in place and I think we both smiled whenever anyone walked up and opened one of the drawers to search. You may wonder why Mom fought the Dewey decimal system but didn't fight the card catalog. Little did I know it, but she had been putting plans in place that would make that new addition a very useful one indeed. What were her plans? That's a memory for next week!

[Next Sunday: Mom brings in a whole new section of books...and many, many new patrons.]


  1. The fact that you remember card catalogs shows your age! I can't believe you wrote all those cards out by hand - what a labor of love.

  2. I still am a fan of card catalogs. I think part of it is just the staid majesty of the cabinet. Old card catalogs are things of great beauty to me.

  3. Wow what an amazing story, I was so sad the day I walked into our library and saw that they had gotten rid of the card catalogs. Every so often when the library computer system goes down I feel a slight shiver of glee that their replacement method has glitches. :)

  4. I'm really loving these memories that you're sharing with us. Thank you so much!

    I, too, loved the card catalog while we still had one in our library. I still remember the first time the librarian showed me how to use it properly. I was so proud of myself!

  5. Cathy, this is such a great series of posts!

    I loved the card catalog, and feel like I sometimes "found" a book by flipping cards near my subject, something you can't do now on the computer searches.

    When our town did away with the card catalog they recycled all the cards as scrap/note paper; so for quite a while we would still see the indices around the library.

  6. Thanks for all the great comments! To this day, I miss card catalogs. I like the phrase Corey used to describe them: "staid majesty". Many's the time I did discover new treasures by looking at the cards before and after the ones for the books I was actually searching for. Cabinet, cards and all, the whole system speaks to me. Before we moved, the library board coughed up the money for a new card catalog. Guess where the old one went? In the moving van with us! And yes, I got more paper cuts from moving the cards into the new ugly metal one.


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