Once upon a time (2) : library catalogues

28 May

Posterity, which was the closing note of my previous ‘once upon a time’ post, will judge on library discovery tools («a single interface, providing integrated access to the multiple information resources […] to which a library has rights») as an appropriate development in the world of academic information retrieval: James Madison University Libraries colleague Jody Fagan‘s recent article in the Journal of web librarianship might prove a nice starting point for further analysis.

At present, what several recent discussions on the UvA-discovery tool have triggered me to do is a brief search for literature on the use of library catalogues at academic institutions in the pre-digital era. The question I am curious to give an answer to (haven’t yet managed, I will concede) is if we can tell how big the pre-digital students’ population was that actively used library card catalogues, and if that population was correspondingly much bigger than present-day (rare) digital catalogues’ users.


The bibliographic references of the articles I collected are in any case provided further below, should any colleague be interested ;-), yet the one publication whose title definitely catched my attention and inspired this post – having myself completed my university studies still using library card catalogues – is the following (bold is mine): McSean, T., & Smith, N. (1989). As simple to use as a card catalogue: can you put your library catalogue on CD-ROM?. Vine, 19(1), 25-30 (article abstract on Emerald’s webpage for VINE: The journal of information and knowledge management systems).

Isn’t this a nice reminder of how both ‘simplicity’ and ‘technical innovation’ are very much products of their age? I still have quite vivid memories of the hours, day after day, month after month, that I spent browsing not such simple card catalogues when working on my MA-thesis. As for CD-ROMs as an appropriate medium for storing library catalogues… We are now some 25 years on and fully engrossed with discovery tools: things might indeed change quickly, and a fair share of historical perspective can do no harm when faced with that powerful siren of Western culture represented by the idea of ‘progress’… an idea under whose old-fashioned spell we still seem not seldom to fall when dealing with present-day vertiginous digital developments.

Panwar, B.S., & Vyas, S.D. (1976). User’s survey of the women college libraries. Herald of library science, 15(1), 3-25.

Hafter, R. (1979). The performance of card catalogs: a review of research. Library research, 1(3), 199-222.

Pangannaya, N.B., & Poornachandra, H. J. (1982). Library catalogue as a dependable tool for retrieval. Study of the use of library catalogue at the Mysore university. Herald of library science, 21(1-2), 8-14.

Broadbent, E. (1984). A study of the use of the subject catalog, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Cataloging & classification quarterly, 4(3), 75-83.

Osiobe, S.A. (1987). Use and relevance of information on the card catalogue to undergraduate students. Library review, 36(4), 261-267.

Pinsley, L.J. (1988). Making the card catalog a more vital resource in the Academic Law Library. Law Library Journal, 80, 447-457.

P.S.: discovery tools’ definition comes from Joan Reitz’s ODLIS Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. Photo is a still from Ghostbusters library scene.


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