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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Online Catalog - 15 years

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 9, 2008

2008 is the 15th anniversary of the arrival of our online catalog.


It was 1993 when the wooden drawers of the card catalog closed for the final time, and the last 3 x 5 index card was added to the drawers.


Early libraries had a variety of ways of organizing and cataloging their books.


The library of John Quincy Adams in the early 19th century was arranged chronologically by the order that the books were acquired.


Each shelf had a metal "button" on it, with the number of the shelf. 


As books were acquired, they were added and the number of the shelf corresponded.


As the size of libraries increased, accession books were maintained to show where the particular book was located on the shelf, allowing subjects to be kept together.


In 1876, Melvil Dewey introduced his numbering system to allow more effective classification of books in libraries.


At the same time, the familiar cards with a hole in the bottom for the drawer rod made their appearance in libraries and remained unchanged for the next century.


In 1926, the Library of Congress began selling preprinted catalog cards for books.


In 1951, the IBM Corporation introduced a mechanical office machine that produced catalog cards and slips for book circulation.


Our own library used a card catalog on opening day, March 12, 1902.


A card was filed for the book's author, and the book's title, and various subjects if it was nonfiction.


In 1936, branches were added to the system and a shelf file was maintained to show all the copies in the county for specific titles.


People loved the card catalog; a massive piece of furniture with drawers of cards to hunt for books in the collection.


Surveys showed that less than one-fourth of library users really used the card catalog, and even fewer really understood how to use it.


I can remember the blank looks on people's faces as they hunted through the cards, unsure what they were looking at.


The 1970s brought the first electronic catalogs to libraries.


It was 1988 when we began entering data online; downloading floppy discs of information and creating the early database.


By 1993, the time had arrived to add the public terminals to the system, and over one weekend all was operational.


Since then, numerous upgrades have brought the system to 5.8 million items in 73 libraries around the state, all available for borrowing.


The system can be searched by 25 access points by browse or keyword, and a variety of combinations.


Our system is now called an "Information Portal" as it accesses databases and other information sources.


It is likely that the future generation of "card catalogs" will access more and more information online, rather than a place that contains the information.


I keep a drawer of former catalog cards just for the fun of running my fingers through the catalog, like we used to do.