Cory Doctorow at 3:16 am Fri, May 15, 2009
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Card Catalog Card Blinds
No fear, Anonymous#9: I’m here to tell you that the card catalog is alive and well, and still of great use (we’ve only rendered about 98% of the cards into electronic records, which still leaves a fair number of volumes for which we only have cards).
You’re absolutely right: it is *exactly* loss of information that I am worried about. I have no truck with the “books as sacred objects” brigade. With (relatively) few notable and wonderful exceptions, books are no more than a means of conveying information, and (at least as far as my own books are concerned) I have no hesitation in dog-earing them, reading them in the bath, on the beach, scribbling in the margins, and, if I don’t like them (or if they just take up too much space, and I’m never going to look at them again) throwing them (or giving them) away. If I can score another copy easily, I’m happy.
However, indices can contain significantly more information than can easily be captured. Marginal notes, cross references, examples of historic penmanship, and so on. Yes – a lot of that information is more relevant to a museum than a library, but that’s not the point.
A lot of what Baker was writing about in Double Fold was precisely about the effect that archiving the material (for example historic newspapers) and then destroying the originals had on the information itself. There are some egregious examples of dreadful scans in there, which lose not only text but also images. And the material on which they are archived (microfilm) frequently has a lower life-expectancy than the original paper.
To be fair, Baker does bang on a lot about how leafing through old newspaper archives is more conducive to serendipitious meanderings than looking at a microfiche machine, and although that’s true, he hasn’t really chosen a fair comparison. I’d rather meander through Wikipedia than a paper copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica any day. Nothing created by humanity beats the WWW for serendipitious meandering.
I have a horrible feeling that you and I have no argument!
does this mean the card catalog room at columbia is no more? that room is almost perversely beautiful, renovated as it was right after card catalogs had become obsolete.
They look cool but ‘m wondering about paper mites and the fire hazard.
I would LOVE to know how these were made.
For all readers of Nicholson Baker’s “Double Fold” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholson_Baker) this is very poignant.
That book is almost as depressing as Cormac McCarthy’s “the Road”.
Nice decorating idea, though.
I recently realized I probably missed out on my chance to buy old card catalog cabinets cheap by a few years. Oh well. Nice blinds.
@#2: Paper mites and fire are also a risk when you live surrounded by thousands of books, as we do. It’s worth the risk, is all.
@#3: I made them very simply! All I did was buy $10 white plastic blinds and glue the card catalog cards to them. The best part is how naturally they stack when the blinds are pulled up.
I made mine out of junk mail, about four years ago. (Instructions here.) Fun little project — even found its way onto the MAKE blog.
I inherited boxes of old catalog cards at my day job. I’ve been using them for notes, but now I’m dreaming of a roll-up shade for my door-less doorway. That would be so lovely.
P.S. Sorry, Mr. Katz. Nothing personal, but I can’t let the reference to Double Fold pass w/o comment. Librarians and archivists are responsible for preserving *information* — not the artifacts that happen to hold that information. Artifacts are for museums.
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