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  • Writer's pictureLocal History Collection

Search & Discovery: Library Card Catalogs

Before the days of Google and online public access catalogs (OPACs), the search for information often began with the library card catalog. This cabinet-like unit houses long drawers of bibliographic cards with books listed by subject and alphabetized by author.

We recently posted an image on our Instagram of the antique card catalog that resides in The Bryant Room, the place in the library where the Local History Collection is contained. Sparking the interest of our audience, the post gained a considerable amount of attention for our humble account.


Though several of our followers demonstrated their knowledge of this archaic technology, the card catalog's purpose and mode of use regularly stumps young students that have visited the Local History Collection on school field trips.


As seen in this 1953 photo, that was not always the case:

While the free-standing card catalog these girls are using is not the exact one that now stands in The Bryant Room, it is a very similar piece with all the same functionalities. As the years carried on, catalogs grew larger and occupied more real estate on the library's floors:

Ultimately, bulky catalogs gave way to the OPACs familiar to today's patrons. These computer-based catalogs made searching for topics and authors easier and quicker than it had ever been before. Still, many who recall using card catalogs in years past continue to appreciate the satisfying procedure of manually flipping through a long line of cards to find information.


Though digital technology allows for more efficient, optimized searching, it is crucial to learn about the analog systems that precede our current methods. As we return to our virtual learning environments, take a moment to remember this research tool which helped defined library culture for over a century, and reflect on the loss of hands-on physical interaction that using it once required.


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