If you do a Google search for “card catalog” it
will likely return Pinterest-worthy images of antique furniture for sale —
boxy, wooden cabinets with tiny drawers, great for storing knick-knacks,
jewelry or art supplies.
But before these cabinets held household objects, they held
countless index cards — which, at the time, were the pathways to knowledge and
information. A new book from the Library of Congress celebrates these catalogs
as the analog ancestor of the search engine.
Back in 1983 my high school library was a bit of a joke. It seems we never had more than 2 copies of any book the county put on its required list. What this meant was that everyone was frantically trying to get the same books to complete papers with. Before I could drive this meant getting my poor mom to drive me to every library in the area.
One day our library started asking for volunteers to do a fundraiser to get more materials and namely more copies of the required books. Some of us jumped on board and sold everything from donuts to coupons. We would also hold bake sales, car washes, and etc. We were elated when at the end of the drive we had far exceeded the goals.
We were all promised that we would have our dreams realized over the summer. The school year starts up and we are giddy to see the new books. Imagine our dismay when we get into the library and find that most of the books are gone. Bare shelves glared at us as we went along the rows. Thats when we noticed that the holy grail of the library was also missing - the card catalog file. In its place was two computer terminals - mind you not computers.
We went to the front desk and asked the librarian what was going on. She had decided to get a fancy computer system ‘to make her job easier and cut down on theft’. We were stunned because we did not have a theft problem. Certainly some books would get lost or damaged but not very many. The books were mostly missing because they had been sent to a company to 'have security embedded in them’. The worst part is the librarian overspent and therefore, you guessed it, was not able to purchase more books.
We felt the shame of being used, lied to, and screwed over. It was at this point that we knew revenge was in order. It took myself and a couple of my fellow computer nerds 15 min to figure out what they had done to the books. The security tag was a RF tag (like at stores) on the card pocket of the book. The new cards themselves had metal foil in their center. Without this foil the tag would receive energy from the newly installed gates at the library door and set off an alarm.
I decided to test our knowledge. I grabbed a reference book, threw a gum wrapper in the pocket, shoved it in my bag, and hit the door. I passed out the door without a peep from the gates. After that day we threw our plan into action. We would steal as many books as we could and hide them in any location we could find.
At first we used storage rooms by boxing them up and soon ran out of space. We then started using empty lockers and even putting them in the ceiling on top of divider walls. By the end of the year the librarian was getting frantic. She could not balance her inventory with the new computer system and she was being called out on it thanks to our many complaints. Another genius move was to have then boxes labeled as other textbooks and sent to the warehouse over the summer. This was easy to do since WE were the volunteers that wrote a program to do it and would print the labels.
The librarian ended up losing her job and being investigated for fraud since there seemed to be some missing funds as well. Over the summer the county finally spent the money to fill our book request due to the uproar. It was not until a week before the start of school that they started discovering library books in the extra boxes several teachers received.
This was just the beginning of us getting revenge on some of the teachers. In the end we got our revenge and the original items we worked so hard to get.
Extra: the books never left county property. We boxed most up and sent them to the warehouse. They came back next year.
Also the company finished the other books they had and sent them back midway through the year. This worked to our advantage because the librarian could not see how many were gone until they placed all the secured books on the shelf from the final shipment.
the eclectic, one-of-a-kind vintage finds that have been collected and curated by etsy shop ourvintagebungalow are among the raddest i’ve found: check out their furniture and home accents to find that perfect conversation piece for your space.
Library Cards Catalog (@librarycardscatalog) is an ongoing art project that documents library cards from all over the globe. Follow their Tumblr to browse this growing archive of treasured plastic rectangles and learn about the community libraries from whence they came. While you’re at it, go ahead and send them a library card even!
❤️ 💳 ❤️
And oh yeah, don’t forget to support your local library.
“Pardon me, do you have anything on leviathans?” the young man asked hopefully.
“I do believe we do, yes,” the reference librarian remarked. “Just a moment, please.” With her skeletal right hand, she removed her left and sent it scurrying to a massive card catalog.
“Living or undead?”
“Monstrous or mortal?
“Hm… monstrous, I believe.”
The librarian nodded and continued chatting politely with the patron. After a few minutes, the arrant hand returned with a small pile of thick, off-white cards inscribed with titles of various books. The words were written in a small, beautiful script.
The librarian perused the cards while her hand reattached itself then said, “This way, please” and floated towards a darkened hallway.