In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Penn's Library Card Catalog


David P. Dillard writes "The old ways of finding information included much time in drawers of 3 X 5
cards called a library card catalog that indexed library collections by
author title and subject of owned publications and other materials. In
1984, a centennial exhibition was held for the huge card catalog of the
University of Pennsylvania Library. This historical record of the event
may be of interest.

Here Is The Text from the 1984 Exhibit
in Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of
Penn's Library Card Catalog
Text from a speech given by Sue Jacobson, March 1984, at the opening of
the exhibitThe "cabinet" today at the University of Pennsylvania numbers some 7,800
drawers; it contains approximately 8 million cards, representing over 3
million volumes in the University libraries. This is a fax cry from the
earliest catalogues of the library collection. The 1829 Catalogue of Books
Belonging to the Library at the University of Pennsylvania listed some
1,700 titles, and the first card catalogue, begun in Spring 1884, had, one
year later, 18,356 cards, representing 6,232 volumes.

While many people think of the catalogue as static, reading through the
annual reports, minutes of meetings and procedural memoranda of the past
100 years presents an entirely different picture. The card catalogue has,
in fact, been constantly evolving.

Obvious to any user of the card catalogue are the variations in the
appearance of the cards, a result both of the technological means of
producing cards and of the different cataloguing standards being followed.

The earliest cards were handwritten, in the finest library script. Melvil
Dewey, in his "Brief Rules for Library Handwriting" instructs the
librarian to write all "letters upright with as little, slant as possible ... [to] take great pains to have all writing uniform in size, blackness
of lines, slant, spacing and forms of letters ... [and to] follow the
library hand forms of all letters, avoiding any ornament, flourish, or
lines not necessary to the letter." (1)

1) Library Notes, c.1, no.1, March 1887, p. 281.


This entire document may be viewed at the URL above.

We can leave the issues of library classification, the determining of call
numbers for the books and resources in the collection, for another day, as
it may leave the readers somewhat dewey eyed. Keep in mind also, one
cannot find books in a card catalog, only cards, the books will not fit,
if somebody ever asks you "Do you have this book in your card catalog?""

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