DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Mar 26 2009

They Don’t Make Little Drawers like They Used To

by Lesley B

card-catalogPublic libraries have gotten great press lately as a way to save money and I’ve noticed a lot of new faces coming up to the information desk. These people look pleased but a little confused and they say, “I haven’t been to the library in a long time. I guess you all don’t have a card catalog any more.”

No, we don’t. I don’t know when DeKalb County Public Library switched (help me out here, DCPL oldtimers), but generally public libraries retired their card catalogs many years ago. The computer OPACs (that’s Online Public Access Catalogs) are an improvement over the little drawers in every way — except aesthetics and ambiance. Somehow libraries looked more ‘libraryish’ when the card catalogs lined the walls.

One of our prodigal patrons asked me, “What happened to all the cards and cabinets?”  The cards show up in crafts and in projects like Cartalog, a memorial to the card catalog created from salvaged University of Iowa catalog cards. Los Angeles Public Library lined an elevator shaft with the old cards, matching the card subjects with the department on each floor. The cabinets have been resold, recycled, and repurposed. I’ve found old card catalogs used as coffee tables, kitchen storage units and sewing room cabinets. A quick search on eBay turned up a few card catalogs, all with multiple bids, so they are very collectible.

If you’d like to extend your trip down library memory lane, check out The Library History Buff. It’s a fascinating collection of librariana, and there’s a section on card catalogs. Sigh. Now I miss them.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jnai W March 26, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Great post, Leslie! This makes me wanna find an old card catalog cabinet.

Nolan March 26, 2009 at 4:23 PM

I have one that I use to organize office supplies. I also read that you can use them as wine cabinets–believe it or not, a single bottle of wine fits perfectly in each drawer! Coincidence? Hmmm…

Lesley March 26, 2009 at 10:10 PM

J’nai, I want one too, and so does Nancy. We’ll all be bidding against each other.

Nolan, just like you said – here’s a card catalog wine cellar.

The gin won’t fit, though.

Karen March 27, 2009 at 6:41 AM

I think the catalogs left DeKalb in 1988-89 and were replaced by microfilm and microfiche, then the OPAC. Some were sold to the University of Georgia as I remember.

Steve March 27, 2009 at 4:41 PM

One of my jobs at Decatur Library in the early ’80’s was to file new card sets (actually drop them as Preston filed them) in the wooden card catalogs. The microfiche sets came around 1986 (my memory could be wrong as I am now old) and were used in conjunction with the card catalogs as the fiche were only updated quarterly at first, then monthly. Ah, the old days. The Genealogy room near the elevators kept one unit of catalog drawers I believe.

Lesley March 30, 2009 at 11:50 AM

As a high school library page, I remember having to refile all the cards that fell out after somebody thought it would be funny to put the drawers back in upside down, then take the little rod out. Also, the patrons that would tear the cards out and come up to the desk to ask for help finding that book … okay, now I don’t miss card catalogs.

Raylynn March 30, 2009 at 12:36 PM

I filed cards at the GA State Univ Library (and was working there when the wooden file cabinets were put to rest).

When we filed cards, we had to measure the height of the stack and keep track of how long it took us to file the cards. Our boss kept stats on us and held us to very high benchmarks set by this one, super-fast, super-accurate, fellow employee. When a card had to be replaced or corrected for some reason, we inserted a temporary “card” printed on thermal paper. Yes, brings back memories…

P.S. Hi to Steve who commented about working at Decatur in the ’80s. Think I have the right Steve.

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