Earlier today, my brother and sisters and I received an email from our older brother Steve. He had just read a book review in the Washington Post concerning a new Library of Congress book entitled The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures.
It brought back memories, and I’ll let Steve’s note to the four of us take it from here.
This story took me back to all those days in libraries…Cookeville and Murfreesboro public, at Tennessee Tech & Western Michigan (where I almost lived while doing my thesis– I even had a private cubicle!), and the 2 church libraries. I spent lots of time at the one in Cookeville where Mom was a one-woman staff for a long time. I would help bind books, glue return card pockets, and watch her type cards for the ubiquitous card catalog. I loved all that. Now I read on my pad and search online, rarely going to an actual library except to find a book old enough to not be available digitally. This article reminded me of how much I’ve lost, and how much I miss Mom.
Being just three years younger than Steve, I have many of the same memories (although the colleges are different). Our mother was a librarian and a lover of books, and she imparted that love to all of us.
Writing the review in the Post, Michael Lindgren captures it well:
“This book about card catalogues, written and published in cooperation with the Library of Congress, is beautifully produced, intelligently written and lavishly illustrated. It also sent me into a week-long depression. If you are a book lover of a certain age, it might do the same to you.
“The Card Catalog” is many things: a lucid overview of the history of bibliographic practices, a paean to the Library of Congress, a memento of the cherished card catalogues of yore and an illustrated collection of bookish trivia. The text provides a concise history of literary compendiums from the Pinakes of the fabled Library of Alexandria to the advent of computerized book inventory databases, which began to appear as early as 1976. The illustrations are amazing: luscious reproductions of dozens of cards, lists, covers, title pages and other images guaranteed to bring a wistful gleam to the book nerd’s eye.
For someone who grew up in and around libraries, it is also a poignant reminder of a vanished world.”
I haven’t read this book (heck, I don’t even own it yet), but you can bet I’ll buy it soon (and not the digital version…I still like the tactile feel of the book cover and paper in my hand when I read on my train ride to work every day.) But just the fact that someone would lament the late, great card catalog is reason enough to put this book on the recommended list.
When you see me seriously depressed for a week, you’ll know I’ve finished The Card Catalog.
More to come…
I entered into studies at Hartford Seminary after the age of sixty, at night so as not to interfere with my daytime duties as an appellate court judge, and I was instructed to write a paper. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “I’ve done this before.”
But when I got to the library, I wandered around for hours, looking for the card catalogue, until I finally found the courage to go the the front desk.
“Where can I find the card catalogue?” I asked. The librarian smiled, gently enough that she didn’t have to laugh, and said that it was downstairs on the computer.
So I went there to find my subject and my book, but I couldn’t work the computer. After a bit, a thirteen year old girl next to me who was probably the daughter of the woman at the desk said,
“Hey, sir, do you need some help?”
If we let them, children will light the way into our future..
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