Saturday, June 27, 2009

Harvard's Catalogue Cards

I have an interest in catalog cards and card catalog cabinets that is reflected in both the Library History Buff Blog and the Library History Buff website. One of my more recent blog entries on this topic was "Battle of the Catalog Cards." Allen Veaner, the former Director of Libraries at the University of California at Santa Barbara, became aware of my interest in library history and contacted me to see if I would be interested in a collection of "catalogue" cards that he had salvaged from his time as a cataloguer at the Widener Library of Harvard University. I, of course, said yes. The collection was of particular interest to me because of the role that Harvard played in the early adoption of the card catalog by libraries in the United States and by its use of a 2 inch by 3 inch catalog card instead of what became the universal standard 7.5 x 12.5 cm catalog card. Allen's collection consisted of five of the 2 x 3 inch cards, 42 standard size cards, and three order cards used by the Harvard library. Allen was kind enough to provide as essay explaining the collection which I have put on the Library History Buff website here along with scans of some of the cards. The catalog card above is one of the earlier handwritten cards. It is stamped "HCL" for Harvard College Library. Note the hole to the left of the card. The earlier card catalogues used by Harvard were designed by Assistant Librarian Ezra Abbot and the retainer ran through this hole. Harvard was one of the first libraries to employ women. Beginning in May 1862 these women began writing information on catalog cards intended for the public card catalog, the first in the United States. In the first year they produced 35,762 hand written cards for the catalog. Incidentally, Harvard used "catalogue" not "catalog" which is the reason for the variations in spellings in this entry. For a history of the card catalog click here. For more examples of catalog cards and their current uses click here. For information on card catalog cabinets and some current uses click here.

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