When I was in college I loved looking through the card catalog at the University of Toledo Library. You could tell the most searched sections. They had the most smudged finger prints on them.
Nicholson Baker even wrote about card catalogs in an article titled “Discards” in the New Yorker, April 4, 1994. This article was reprinted in his book “The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber”. Well worth the read for the book lovers out there.
Gradually every library did away with their paper card catalogs. They made their inventory digital. I could find fast just what I was looking for- but I rarely stumbled across something new. Just the price we pay for progress.
Then I read in the Boston Globe of one library that saved their card catalogs after they went digital. The librarians asked authors to autograph those old card catalogs. Then they were auctioned off to benefit the library. What a great way to recycle, raise money and make your book loving patrons so happy.
I wish I had on my shelf Nicholson Baker’s autographed card for “Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper” (2001), or Nicholas Basbanes’ autographed card for “A Gentle Madness : Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes and the Eternal Passion for Books” (1995). It would have been great to have “Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott’s (1995) signed card laid in my signed copy of Bird by Bird. Those little bookish things would make me so happy.
Alas, that ship has sailed. When I stumble across any card catalog these days I smile and wonder at what could have been….
Tony Toledo, June 5, 2016