GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Once central to any quest to locate books within a library, the fate of card catalogs was sealed with the rise of the Internet and computer searches, relegating many of those index cards to the country’s basements, storage cabinets and trash bins.
But on a wall in the corner of Greenfield Community College’s Nahman-Watson Library, 128 artifacts from the library’s card catalog hang preserved in a glass case – signed by the authors who penned the very books to which the cards once led.
The project has been 14 years in the making for librarian Hope Schneider, who wanted to memorialize the cards after the library’s catalog went digital in 1999.
In the years that followed, Schneider sent cards to local authors and artists, asking if they would sign their card and make some contribution to the display. A decade later, after GCC’s library was expanded, she resumed her quest – sending letters across the country to novelists, poets and politicians.
Responses slowly trickled back. While some just autographed their cards, most added a message, some writing of the importance of reading or lamenting the loss of the card catalog. Children’s book author and illustrator Eric Carle doodled on his card.
Schneider was delighted to see that Billy Collins, one of her favorite poets, crafted a poem on three of his cards: “I love card catalogues/but I only wish/my cards were more dogeared!”
Not everyone wanted to participate. Politicians – with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry, who was then a U.S. senator, and responded – turned down the offer, instead sending the library autographed photos.
And author Wendell Berry wrote back, “I refuse to cooperate in any way in the destruction of the card catalogues, which I think is a mistake, a loss, a sorrow.”
Library Director Deborah Chown said Schneider’s project captures a time when people would find new books through serendipity – simply because it was next to another book or classified through a similar subject matter.
“Every once in a while you see someone buried intently in a particular area, sitting on the floor with three or four books around them,” said Chown. “But it seems that everyone’s so busy, and they just want what they want. ... They go directly to the shelf and take it out and go their merry way.”
Chown and Schneider don’t deny the advantages that new library technology offers – the opportunity to search rapidly through online databases and access books, journals and newspaper articles.
But there was also some surprise and sadness when a tour of prospective students came through the library, saw the display and didn’t recognize the cards.
“The catalog is not really lost and it hasn’t disappeared – it’s just changed form,” wrote the librarians, in a pamphlet associated with the display. “We hope that this display will keep you searching for all the rabbit holes here in the GCC library.”