I Miss the Card Catalog

I realize libraries have been using computers for years now to keep track of their book inventory, but I want to go on record as saying that I miss the old card catalog way of tracking the Dewey decimal system.

I’m a systematic person. I like words in alphabetical order and numbers in sequence. Dewey is an anal retentive girls best friend. When I was in grade school, I’d thumb through the cards in the long drawers of the smooth oak card catalogs like they were made of velvet. Flip, flip, flip. This activity was second only to finding the book I was looking for, walking past aisle after aisle of books, a sign on the end of each wooden shelf indicating which part of the alphabet was stored there or which reference number. I’d find the right aisle, cock my head to the right and just read numbers and letters. I still do that today, but usually I’m in a book store, not a library, and without thumbing through the cards in the card catalog, half the joy is gone.

I did, however, go to our public library today (which boasts an impressive number of volumes on the shelves and readily available reference material for a small-town library) to do some research for a writing project. Alas, they didn’t have the books I was looking for (I know that because I looked them up on their “card catalog computer” – so disappointing), but I enjoyed looking through the stacks and seeing all the authors’ last names arranged in order. I was especially happy to see the familiar reference numbers on the spine, too. Obviously, it’s been awhile since I was in a library.

Apropos of nothing, have you ever noticed that all libraries smell the same? Like grade schools and nursing homes and churches all have the same smell. Do they all use cleaning solutions specially made for that particular institution? Is it the books? When I was in school, be it grade school, high school or college, whenever I’d get a new textbook, I’d crack the spine and stick my nose in the center and take a big whiff. I love new book smell. It’s intoxicating. Maybe because it signifies new. I know some people who liked the smell of freshly mimeographed copies, but I wasn’t into that smell much. It had a sharp, oh I don’t know, tangy smell of ink that I didn’t like and the paper was always damp and purple. Houghton Mifflin, however, never let me down.

I have no idea where all these thoughts came from today. I’ve been ordering a lot of books online lately so maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic for the days I actually spent hours browsing through the library instead of clicking with a mouse through Amazon’s “recommendations.” Maybe Claire and I need to visit a library near her house in Pittsburgh and make it a Grammy and Claire activity each week. Hopefully she’ll learn to love browsing the stacks as much as I do. We’ll find books to read together, bury our faces in the new ones, and lose ourselves in fantasy and fun.

I’ve decided. I’m adding “go to the library” to our list of things to do when I start my part-time Granny Nanny duties this week. I’ll tell her all about the days of the real card card catalogs and how her grandma had to stand on a stool to reach the top drawers. Hopefully Claire will appreciate order and the alphabet and sequential numbers the way I do. If not, I guess there’s always the park.

2 thoughts on “I Miss the Card Catalog

  1. Yeah, grade schools that smell like sweeping compound and lunch cooking. I love that… one year Pam and I sniffed out our Christmas presents. There were two new Barbie houses under the tree and the smell was un-mis-TAKE-able, lol. Big hugs, V

  2. thought I was the only person in the world who felt sad when the card catalog disappeared! I teach on-line and deal with some of the tech problems from time to time. I felt something warm and secure about the library system I had “grown up with.”
    Even though I know it is “progress” at the same time- it is accommodation as well- accommodating the tens of thousands of students who don’t learn much of anything- especially how to read. I am a teacher- at the college level- and I am absolutely appalled at the number of students in my classes who cannot read- and or- comprehend what they have read. This is a very discouraging dilemma in our country- more than most people realize.
    Well- yes- I, too, miss the card catalog for one had to think instead of allowing a machine to think for you.

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