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.
From the Library of Congress, The Card Catalog takes readers on a treasure hunt through the history of our most beloved books. Teeming with over 200 images of original catalog cards, first edition book covers, and photos from magnificent archives of the Library of Congress, this collection is a visual celebration of one of the world’s most famous libraries and the brilliant catalog system that has kept it organized for hundreds of years.
Here is the introduction of the book written by Peter Devereaux, Writer-Editor at The Library of Congress.
Wandering the stacks at the Library of Congress can be as overwhelming as it is inspiring. Drifting through the maze of bookshelves evokes images of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’s fictional Library of Babel—a seemingly infinite labyrinth of books.
Being surrounded by the collected memory of the human race is a reminder of the intrinsic desire for both knowledge and organization. Ever since the emergence of the written word, humans have scribbled down myths, stories, histories, and natural observations and worked tirelessly to gather and protect these fragments of a shared past.
Evolving alongside, in the shadows of the written word, was one of the most versatile and durable technologies in history: the library catalog—a road map for navigating this wilderness of books. The humble yet powerful card catalog progressed slowly and, like countless other important inventions, owes its existence to a number of brilliant thinkers, as well as to the twists and turns of history.
From the peculiar and idiosyncratic methods of ancient libraries to far more intricate, comprehensive modern attempts, library catalogs are a tangible example of humanity’s effort to establish and preserve the possibility of order.
Assembled in handsome oak cabinets, the card catalog once framed the palatial Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress. It has now fallen to the exigencies of modern life, replaced by the flickering screens of the online computer catalog. One would need to venture farther into the stacks to find the Main Card Catalog.
Opening a drawer and flipping through the well-worn cards, many handwritten and filled with marginalia containing valuable information not to be found in an Internet search, leaves one with a sense of awe at how catalogers distilled so much information onto simple 3-by-5-inch index cards—cards that still sit neatly filed, waiting to reveal the treasures hidden in the hundreds of miles of Library stacks on Capitol Hill.”
—Peter Devereaux Writer-Editor at The Library of Congress
“I went with my family — my grown children and my husband — to the premiere, and my heart was pounding. And I was taken up because the essence of who that character is for so many of us, and for so long: there’s a goodness; there’s a heart. It’s about something. It’s about who we are as people against the violence. It’s about defending what’s right.”
The Library of Congress - Washington D.C. - May, 2017
A visit to the Library of Congress is a dream worth making a reality. I spent the entire afternoon leafing through manuscripts, microfilms, and tomes on Lafayette and his family…catching glimpses of letters that I’d only read about. I got to hold a letter written by John Laurens. I wanted to barricade myself inside until I finished perusing every entry. It’s a beautiful building full of the richest historical accounts this country has to offer.