Book Review: The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

Card Catalog BookLibrary of Congress.  The Card Catalog:  Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures.  Foreword by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress.  San Francisco, CA:  Chronicle Books, 2017, ISBN: 9781452145402.

Amazon – Hardback, $22.48, Kindle, $9.20

Barnes and Noble    Hardback, $23.62, Nook $11.99

 

This book is for the true Old School bibliophile.  (It even has a Library of Congress pocket LC cardand book card pasted inside the front cover.  I guess they kept a few  boxes of cards and pockets deep in some vault at the Library of Congress or the Ft. Mead overflow area for just such an occasion.  The card is attached to the pocket with a plastic disc about the size of a quarter.)

The book lovingly traces the history and the significance of the card catalog beginning cuneformwith the original cuneiform clay tablet. “One tablet found near the Sumerian city of Nippur and dated around 2000 B.C. was clearly identified as a library catalog by renowned Sumerian history and language expert N. Kramer.  At just 2-1/2 by 1-1/2 in (6.5 by 4.cm) the tablet foreshadowed the use of small index cards in cataloging…”

It also talks about the Pinakes, catalog of the famous Library of Alexandria.  According to the book,  this library’s method of organizing information became the cornerstone that cataloging has used ever since.  The Alexandria’s first librarian, Zenodotus, developed this system to identify the huge scrolls of papyrus stacked haphazardly in piles.  “The scrolls were inventoried and then organized alphabetically with a tag affixed to the end indicating the author, title, and subject.”

The book then covers the Far and Middle East catalogs,  before continuing with medieval libraries and movable type.  During this period, books moved from scroll to codex. (between the 4th and 6th centuries).Codex_Petropolitanus_fols._164v-165r.jpg

The next chapter is devoted to the Enlightened Catalog  This occurred during the American  Revolution and the founding of the Library of Congress.  It does not acknowledge the Enlightenment’s French and English antecedents and their influence on the Americans but the beautiful illustrations and sample catalog cards do include several European titles.

The next chapter is “Constructing a Catalog:  The 3 x 5  Solution.”   “Harvard’s assistant librarian, Ezra Abbott, is credited  with creating the first modern card catalog designed for readers.  When Abbott introduced his catalog in the early 1860s, the ‘paper slip’ or card catalog was being used in Europe and a few American libraries, but the bound catalog was still prevalent.”  It was also during this period that  Cutter created a scheme that became the basis for the Library of Congress Classification system.  A bit later, Melville Dewey created his classification scheme, based “upon a controlled vocabulary of subject headings represented by numerical values.”  ALA was also founded during this period.  With the invention of the typewriter, many cards switched from handwritten to typed.  Again the chapter is very U.S-centric.

The chapter on the “Nation’s Library and Catalog:  A Marble House of Cards” follows.  The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress were competing to become the national library.  Following the Centennial celebrations in 1876, the number of books arriving at the Library of Congress exploded and the need for a second building was soon evident. “On a rainy November morning in 1897, the new Library of Congress opened its door to the public, ahead of schedule and under budget.”  Could any government building make that claim today?   With  Herbert Putnam as its new librarian, The Library of Congress developed the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) in 1899, began re-cataloging its older books on standard sized 7 x 13 cm cards, called for outside help from university and public libraries to catalog all the varying books, and began printing 7.5 by 12 cm library cards. These cards came with a hole punched in the bottom for the guard rods.

The last chapter deals with the Rise and the Fall of the Card Catalog.   Putnam had established the Cataloging Distribution Services  and the interlibrary loan system which moved its influence from just Congress’s Library.  ALA supported the use of LC (Library of Congress) as the central source of cataloging information.  LC began to drown in library cards. The rise of computer systems added a new nemesis for the traditional catalog production system. MARC, Machine-Readable Cataloging was launched in 1966. By the 1980s, major public and university libraries began removing their stacks of library catalogs.  This prompted the next big question:  what do you do with the beautiful catalogs and their millions of cards?

Since this book is created by the Library of Congress, its LC focus is easy to understand.  The illustrations are gorgeous and really add to the beauty and usefulness of this coffee table book. Many illustration sequences include the title page or a picture from the book and the accompanying print/and or handwritten catalog card. I would like to see someone do a companion piece to this topic that gives a bit more credit to what Europe and the world have added to the history of the catalog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Most beautiful libraries in the worldThe Most Beautiful Libraries in the World by Jacques Bosser, photographs by Guillaume  Booser, foreword by James Billington,  translated by Laurel Hirsch  (New York:  Harry N. Abrams, 2003) ISBN:0810946343

Available from Amazon for $37.08

The book covers 23 libraries.  Twenty are in Europe and  three are in the United States.  The introduction is an ode to  libraries, books, and readers. It traces the history of libraries back to the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks. “As long as a library is both useful and used, it will grow.  When it no longer answers to its calling, in time it will lose its importance and, at best, its rich collections will only be consulted by historians.”

The libraries included in the book are:
National Library of Austria – Vienna, Austria
The Benedectine Abbey Library of Admont – Admont, Austria
The Monastic library at Wiblingen – Ulm, Germany
The Benedictine Abbey Library of Metten – Metten, Germany
The Herzogin Anna Amalia Library – Weimar, Germany
The Vatican Library – Rome, Italy
Riccardiana Library – Florence, Italy
The Mazarine Library – Paris, France
The Institute Library – Paris, France
The Senate Library – Paris, France
The Cabinet Des Livres of the Duc D’Aumale – Chantilly, France
The Abbey Library of St. Gall – Saint Gall, Switzerland
Bodleaian Library – Oxford, England
Wren Library, Trinity College – Cambridge, England
The John Rylands Library – Manchester, England
Trinity College Library – Dublin, Ireland
The National Library – Prague, The Czech Republic
The Library of the Royal Monastery of El Escorial – San Lorenzo del Escorial, Spain
The National Palace Library in Mafra – Mafra, Portugal
Boston Athaenaeum – Boston, USA
The Library of Congress – Washington, DC, USA
The New York Public Library – NY, USA
The National Library of Russia – St. Petersburg, Russia

Each library featured includes both the history and how it reflects the culture and its focus at the time of creation. For example,  the Benedictine Abbey Library of Admont in Admont, Austria offers a technical description of the library as  a “late baroque hall that, on a smaller scale, is somewhat reminiscent of the court library in Vienna… Its 230 ft (70 m) length extends down a central area under a cupola 41 ft 8 in (12.7 m) high  of which open two lateral, rectangular halls, each surmounted by three domes, 37 ft (11.3 m) in height.”   In the next paragraph, it switches from details and description to explanation. “This technical description, however,  conveys nothing of the spirit in which this masterpiece glorifying the Creator was conceived–a lavish Gesamtkunstwerk or global work of art, where each element plays a role.”

Benedictine Library of Admont

Trinity College LibraryThe description includes the focus of the collection of each library, how it is organized, and the art work that enhances the look and feel of the library.   For example, Trinity College Library in Dublin “(b)eginning in 1728, marble busts were place at the entry of each alcove on both the ground floor and the gallery.  Executed by sculptors such as Roubilliac, Van Nost, and Scheemaker, all famous during their lifetime, the busts are of philosophers, poets, historians, and ever increasingly benefactors and professors of the university.”

NYPL LionsEven the modern day New York Public Library “is, in fact an authentically democratic tool of knowledge reflecting the American conviction that education is one of the surest ways to climb the social ladder.”  Patience and Fortitude, the two pink Tennessee marble lions sculpted by Edward Clark Porter, are “today two of New Yorkers’ preferred beasts.”

The book does an excellent job showing the unique features and history of these famous libraries and includes a brief bibliography.  All of the libraries are either European or American.  Although it looks like there is another 2010 edition of the book, it is a reprint of the 2003 book, with a different cover.  If there is another edition, maybe it will include libraries from other parts of the world.

Do you like libraries, or do you think it is all online and free?  Join in the conversation and share what your favorite library is and why.

Library of Congress: Library Launches Free WWI Webinar Series.

Library of CongressLibrary of Congress: Library Launches Free WWI Webinar Series. “The Library of Congress is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into The Great War with a new free, online webinar series highlighting some of the Library’s most remarkable World War I resources, including documents, photographs, maps, and personal stories collected through the Veterans History Project.”