the *card* catalog

A few months ago, I was saying something at a meeting about making a tutorial for the online catalog when one of the catalogers interrupted.

"You said *card* catalog!" she declared.

"I did?" I said.

"You said online card catalog. There's no cards involved. Card catalog is an outdated term!"

Hmm. I worked as a cataloger for a couple years before this job and it seems like a lot of what goes into a catalog record is still tied to the card format. The concept of main entry, LC subject headings, serials holdings especially--things like that. When I'm instructing students now on how to use the online catalog, I ask them if they've ever seen a card catalog, and to picture the online interface searching through the drawers. To me, this explains a lot of the funky stuff about searching an online catalog that makes it different from using an article database or search engine. Of course, it's getting to the point where few students have seen card catalogs any more so I may just have to abandon the analogy for instruction.

I'm just curious what the LISNewsterz think. Is there still a connection between the online catalog and the card catalog? Or am I, as the catalogers here tell me, hopelessly out of date with the cutting edge craft of cataloging?


My library has a lot of older people, they and I still refer to the patron public access catalog terminals as the card catalog.

Perhaps it is just the computerized accessible records database catalog!

Now I see what you mean.

I wonder as librarians if we are not doing our role in teaching users that full-text searching probably gives back the worst results in most situations?

What are other analogies could you use? Just thinking real quick, you could relate the online catalog to a phone book. The user needs some information to succeed.

I came to cataloging from a somewhat different perspective. I'd been working as a cataloger for a while before I ever took a cataloging class. When I saw how a card was constructed, a lot of the weird stuff about MARC (field lengths, note construction, serials holdings, main entry especially) made a lot more sense. I had a similar a-ha! moment when I first started using MARC because I could see how the computerized catalog worked, but I think also the concept of card cataloging is still strongly embedded in computerized catalogs and is helpful for understanding how they work. Although, as mdoneil pointed out above, this analogy is probably not useful for younger 'civilians' who've never seen a card catalog.

Probably the largest difference is that many article databases search the full text of the article while no library catalog does this. So you have to know the subject heading/author/title specifically or get a keyword. Library catalog records describe an item but don't contain all of the item. Some article databases just describe the article as well, but many of them (esp. the ones undergrads use) have the full text. Most undergrads are more familiar with full text searching, particularly with internet search engines, and are surprised to hear that searching the catalog doesn't search through the whole book. If they've seen a card catalog they can sort of conceptualize how the system works and how they have to think when searching on it, in my opinion.

When I took an introductory class in cataloging, having seen a card catalog previously, probably provided little help understanding in the cataloging process. Seeing a full MARC record had more meaning to me.

I see very little difference between an online catalog and an article database. Some of the headings might be different, but they are very similar. I wonder what distinctions you are relating to an older card catalog?

I'm thinking you're right about the analogy. The younger the student is, the more blankly they stare when I talk about the card catalog. But with the returning students, it's a big hit. We are in a rural area so there's still card catalogs kicking around, but I don't think the schools teach students how to use them even if it's the only library catalog available.

I totally agree. That's why I thought it was weird that the catalogers were upset with me for calling it a card catalog--so much of it is still based on the card file format. Maybe it's a self image thing with them. :-)

I love the acronym! Works for me!

Older (pushing 40 like me and older) users can picture a card catalog. Unless school libraries are STILL mostly using card catalogs, I'd stop using the analogy. You really have to see one in action to appreciate them.Interesting journal post. Thanks.

I noticed the card influence as a library user, but it was much more clear after my class in cataloging. Some other examples are limits on numbers of things like LCSH for books or field lengths...which are influenced by the size of the card.

I've got some old cards... but I'd really like a cabinet. Probably will have to build my own.I love the physical form more than the digital form...-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

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