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Greenburgh Public Library Blog

Remember the Card Catalog?

by John Sexton on 2019-03-04T16:44:58-05:00 in How the Library Works, Collections, Adults | Comments



Do you recall the library card catalog, the name libraries gave to the system of organizing their materials by noting inventory on index cards kept in long drawers of oak cabinets?  Library patrons could thumb through the cards to search for an item by title, author or subject area.  Sometimes the easiest way to find the most popular books was to flip to the card most soiled with thumbprints! Established in libraries around 1876, the card catalog was a labor-intensive effort meant to help patrons locate material.  Librarians not only had to continually add and remove cards from the catalog as inventory changed, but, in the years before typewriters, also needed to write out bibliographic information in what was called ‘librarian hand’ - a script with no flourish that was taught in library school.

Today those cards are long gone, though some libraries (like that at Yale University) keep them as historical artifacts.  In 1983 the first computerized card catalogs began to replace the cards and drawers. The simple computer terminal with its black screen and gold type was called an online pubic access catalog or OPAC.  In the years since, OPACs have continuously evolved to be more useful to library patrons and staff.

I was thinking about those unique cabinets and catalog cards recently when we were preparing for the transition from our current online catalog, that we have been using since 2006, to a new system that will launch on March 15.  We were discussing how to best inform our library users about the change and its impact on services, some of which will be suspended for a few days (March 11-14) while data is being transferred. 

Because we work daily with the OPAC and its circulation component that tracks items being purchased, checked in, checked out and discarded, we use terms or jargon that the public doesn’t usually know – OPAC, for example, or ILS (Integrated Library System).  We struggled with the wording of the messages we want to give our library users because while we know specific terms for components of the system that will change, most library users aren’t familiar with them or might find them confusing.  Everyone, however, seems to know or remember a card catalog!

So, please know that we are changing our card catalog this month!  There will be a disruption of usual service for three days when you will not be able to access our catalog online or put holds on or renew material.  Books that are checked out from the library we will process by hand.  When the new catalog comes online, it will look different and we believe it will make your experience of finding the material you want easier.

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