Image: Weekes Branch Library, Hayward, Calif.
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” ― Andrew Carnegie
People sometimes ask me, “Whatever happened to the card catalog”? Hayward Public Library was one the first libraries to computerize its catalog way back in the 1980′s. Since that time, our card catalogs have been officially out of service. But we have kept them in storage for all these years, just waiting for the right reason to use them again. Meanwhile, library card catalogs have been showing up on the antiques market lately, some at eye-popping prices. According to antique dealers, card catalogs are now considered retro-chic, very desirable, and they are getting harder and harder to find. Just in my four years as library director, the number of people who have asked me if we still have our card catalogs and if we would sell them, runs in the double digits. Apparently, card catalogs make great storage for curios, wine, yarn, socks, etc., and are even used as display furnishings in high-end boutiques – who knew? But my answer was always no – not only because they’re public property, but also because along with library books and library cards, the card catalog is one of the most emblematic symbols of the library’s rich and proud history, and it still has value and utility even in this day and age of computers everywhere. In fact, we have found the perfect use for the card catalogs again, and will soon be bringing them back into the sunlight in a new and innovative way.
We’re starting a seed lending library this coming April. And as it turns out, the old card catalog is just the right size for organizing and storing the seed packets. I’m looking forward to this great new resource, and I think our community will be excited about it, too. There’s a certain zen-like harmony to the idea: re-using and re-purposing that which is useful; life springs anew; sharing information and resources with the whole community; all that good stuff. It’s funny, I remember using the card catalogs in the Main Library when I was a kid. I wonder if I opened that very same drawer, way back then? Today, as a librarian who has the incredible good fortune to work and serve in my hometown library, it will be satisfying to see the card catalogs back in useful service again, as they should be — in the public library where everyone can enjoy and benefit from them (not just the wine and yarn collectors). Stay tuned for more announcements about the seed lending library and our first annual Seed Read and Plant-a-Thon event, coming soon.