OCLC consciously uncouples from catalog cards
October 1, 2015 1:29 PM   Subscribe

On September 30th, OCLC ended support for Accessions List and Catalog Cards. What does this mean? It means they will no longer be supplying such cards to libraries, special collections and information filers. Partially filling the gap are suppliers of blank cards e.g. [1] [2] [3]. Also, books about cards.
posted by Wordshore (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I worked in the gifts unit of my college library, I used to spend a lot of time digging through the card catalogs as a last resort to find cataloging records.

I suppose now all of that has been digitized and it's way easier to search through things in a relational database, but sometimes I miss the tactile experience of flipping through cards to find if we had a copy of this particular German edition of The Sorrows of Young Werther...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:30 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I worked at a TV studio within the government, we had an ancient U-matic videotape machine that we spent a small fortune maintaining, because there were a handful of small TV stations that only requested footage in that format.

Eventually, we figured out that these TV stations were also spending a fortune maintaining support for this horrible and archaic format, because they thought it was the only format that we were able to provide.

Somehow, I suspect that there's a similar story at play for the last few remaining customers of these cards...

Once we acknowledged the mutual misunderstanding, our managers seemed really keen on sending them slightly-less-archaic video tapes (which they were OK with) before I suggested actually asking them what they preferred, with the suggestion that FTP might be preferable to mailing Betamax tapes across the country. Shockingly, every station we contacted (in 2012) knew about the internet, and loved this idea. I get depressed whenever I think about the number of other business processes that we were breaking our backs to support, due to this same dumb kind of inertia, pessimism, and unwillingness to actually talk to people.
posted by schmod at 2:44 PM on October 1, 2015 [23 favorites]


When I worked at a TV studio within the government, we had an ancient U-matic videotape machine that we spent a small fortune maintaining, because there were a handful of small TV stations that only requested footage in that format.

I spent a summer internship cataloging the huge, neglected institutional video and audio archive of a DC museum. One of the first orders of business was to track down a Umatic player to ID the many un-or-vaguely labeled tapes from the late 70s and early 80s that documented some of the earliest meetings and research trips that led to the museum's creation. I lucked out, because two were gathering dust in a basement storage room, still there, it seemed, because it required some effort to pitch them.

When I worked in the gifts unit of my college library, I used to spend a lot of time digging through the card catalogs as a last resort to find cataloging records.

My first real library gig, just out of grad school, was helping a historical society convert their 110 year old card catalog into an OPAC. Often, the only clue as to why we held an item was a note on a catalog card in the hand of one my long-dead predecessors indicating a relevant passage or a photo not reflected in the formal record, and which otherwise would have been overlooked. I used many of these to add subject headings to the MARC records we got from OCLC.

TLDR; dead formats - still pretty useful!
posted by ryanshepard at 3:17 PM on October 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Somehow, I suspect that there's a similar story at play for the last few remaining customers of these cards...

Could be. On the other hand, I help run a shared library catalogue, and a few of the participating libraries were still using card catalogues until about five years ago, when they joined our system. I'm not too familiar with the history there, but these are small rural libraries with few resources, maybe one paid staff person, and no real local technical knowledge. Converting your card catalogue to an online system can be a labour-intensive process -- especially if you're using standard cataloguing practices, which are quite complex; more importantly, you also need either the technical capacity to run the system yourself, or the money to pay someone to run it for you. It's not so hard to see why a small library might choose to stick with an outdated but functional card catalogue for as long as they can.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:41 PM on October 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


A local medical library here in San Francisco converted all their U-matic and VHS tapes to digital. Then they trashed the tapes. Ah... The future. But... They didn't make a backup of the hard drives, and the drives crashed hard. All was lost. Years of medical videos for teaching gone. Yup, you can say they were stupid. But the thoughtless move to "modern" formats has problems too.

Meanwhile when the San Francisco Public Library trashed their card catalogs people screamed because there were years of notes written on the cards. Some really valuable, others, well, you know... But SFPL tried to do something to save this history. They wallpapered a part of the library with the cards. Only decoration as they aren't alphabetized.
posted by njohnson23 at 3:42 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I should add that the above anecdote applied only to new recordings. As in, we were doenconverting new HD footage to UMatic.

Archiving was "not our job," but that's a different rant.
posted by schmod at 3:48 PM on October 1, 2015


these are small rural libraries with few resources, maybe one paid staff person, and no real local technical knowledge. Converting your card catalogue to an online system can be a labour-intensive process

I'm consulting for one of the small rural libraries right now. They have 1200 people in town and 17,000 items in the library which is pretty good. They have a "computerized catalog" which is 17,000 lines of FileMaker Pro formatted text. When I asked the librarian if there was a way to search it online, he told me they have a PDF online and people can download it and then hit control F to look for their book.

The trustees have had the good sense to try to get the library actually automated, so they can keep track of their items and figure out who's check stuff out and allow people to put something on hold. The librarian is probably going to fight them tooth and nail. I thought I was being brought in to consult on online catalog systems, but I think I was being brought in as an outsider saying "yes really the method use may work but it's horribly out of date and isn't interoperable with any other library systems" They don't have a card catalog either.

He's the librarian because his mother was the librarian before him, and he's not really a "trained librarian" in the professional sense, but he has a lot of useful local knowledge and most people can't imagine the library without him. It's probably an open question whether it's better to have a computerized catalog but any random librarian, or whether you have this guy with his FileMaker Pro database. I do think there's value in companies like OCLC saying "The world has moved on, and this format is no longer being supported" I love the things myself, just more in the nostalgia way than in a "they're actually useful way" There are definitely things you lose by no longer having in catalog card format. I'm a huge fan of the art people have made from them.
posted by jessamyn at 4:17 PM on October 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


Must be what happened to the library of Alexandria, they moved everything to an archaic digital format and the space alien overseers triggered an EMP that wiped out all knowledge of the antigravity systems that moved around the blocks making up the pyramids (along with the pleasure domes hovering at the vertexes).
posted by sammyo at 4:27 PM on October 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Christians just burned that one down, iirc.
posted by jessamyn at 4:30 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Exactly what the space overseers want us all to believe.
posted by sammyo at 4:36 PM on October 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm a huge fan of the art people have made from them.

Oh, I thought you were going to describe a Menger Sponge.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:46 PM on October 1, 2015


As long as there's storage space I'd thing there's another decade or two where they're used for notes and bookmarks, great for jotting down a reminder to download the ebook, but probably recycle.
posted by sammyo at 4:51 PM on October 1, 2015


As long as there's storage space

hahahahahahaha

no
posted by clavicle at 5:16 PM on October 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Our old card file now lives in the staff room and has drawers labeled things like "googly eyes" and "marbles." It's very handy.
posted by Biblio at 5:27 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Old card catalog fixtures are great for buttons and other tiny parts. I have long wanted one for my craft stuff.

I'm actually considering going to a card catalog, to make the children search for themselves. We have an OPAC but no computers accessible for the students at the school, so I wind up searching for them. Which is frustrating as hell, as you might imagine.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:02 PM on October 1, 2015


Old card catalog cabinets are something that I see other librarians geek out over, but I'm like, 'meh, just sell 'em to the highest bidder. They can fill them with wine bottles or yarn or something, and I can go buy a charging station and still have enough money left over to start up circulating cake pan and hand tool collections.'
posted by box at 7:41 PM on October 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I see something like this on the Blue and all I can think is, "Just how many of us how MLSs anyway?!"
posted by jburka at 7:48 PM on October 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


My college radio station still was running 8 tracks for some things. And I graduated in 2006.

I would bet on those having been Fidelipac cartridges, not 8-tracks. (Nearly as obsolete as 8-tracks, though.)
posted by in278s at 10:40 PM on October 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not a MLS, ( I'm MSL, though ), however I did cut my teeth on video editing on Umatics, so there's that. ( Man, that jog/shuttle knob was wonderful... )
posted by mikelieman at 12:18 AM on October 2, 2015


There's an OCLC press release. From it (via Lorcan):

OCLC built the world's first online shared cataloging system in 1971 and, over decades, merged the catalogs of thousands of libraries through a computer network and database. That database, now known as WorldCat, not only made it possible for libraries to catalog cooperatively, but also to share resources held in other libraries on the network. It also made it possible for libraries to order custom-printed catalog cards that would be delivered to the library already sorted and ready to be filed.

OCLC began automated catalog card production in 1971, when the shared cataloging system first went online. Card production increased to its peak in 1985, when OCLC printed 131 million. At peak production, OCLC routinely shipped 8 tons of cards each week, or some 4,000 packages. Card production steadily decreased since then as more and more libraries began replacing their printed cards with electronic catalogs. OCLC has printed more than 1.9 billion catalog cards since 1971.
posted by Wordshore at 2:43 AM on October 2, 2015


We had an old card catalog that was sitting in a storage room that nobody wanted to get rid of. I thought it was because the older library staff were emotionally attached to it and it turns out I was partially right - they each wanted to take it home themselves and refused to let it go out until their secret retirement tontine was complete.

You can imagine their shock when the new director, who was totally uninformed about the secret fate of the card catalog, put it up for silent auction at a library benefit. You can also imagine the giant stack of museum discount passes we were able to afford for the library thanks to the frantic bidding from staff. The director was secretly proud about that until all the older staff, some who were hanging on just for that catalog, started to announce their retirements.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:46 AM on October 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


YouTube: Last card for library card catalog printed.
posted by Wordshore at 6:06 AM on October 2, 2015


There are lots of tutorials to make a basic card catalog-like structure, though most are missing the rod to keep cards in place.


sperose: My college radio station still was running 8 tracks for some things.

in278s: I would bet on those having been Fidelipac cartridges, not 8-tracks.

Ah, that's the official name of "carts." We had a bunch of them, and the hardware to play them, but I don't know if the player was still wired to our board. We also had a wall of patch cables and a reel-to-reel machine, which only one DJ knew how use (thanks to his own archaic radio training that he received in the late 1990s). Then we got a new station, and all that stuff was stored, or trashed, or something.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:59 AM on October 2, 2015


Just how many of us how MLSs anyway?!"

Anyone who is marked in my contacts as a "colleague" is someone who either has an MLS or has worked in a library.
posted by jessamyn at 8:31 AM on October 2, 2015


The YouTube video a few comments back has been removed. It may be the same one as embedded in this Columbus Dispatch article, but it's a PITA to view on my setup. Article does have this interesting bit:

"Catalog cards were once a key part of the company, with rows of printers running in a sunny second-floor observatory, hitting a peak output of 131 million cards in 1985. The company’s innovation was in compiling the information on the cards, which meant that libraries didn’t need to write the text themselves. As of last year, orders had fallen to less than 1 million.

The final shipment was bound for Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y., where librarians use the cards as a backup to an online catalog.

Among the last cards was a book of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and a DVD of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Looking at the cards, you can see the practical advantages of digital systems. The Catching Fire entry takes up nine cards for the same information on an online catalog entry."
posted by Wordshore at 8:56 AM on October 2, 2015


secret retirement tontine

I love this and would like to set such a thing up.

The thing I most regret not taking from the first library I worked in was the Billy Dee Williams celebrity READ poster. The library got gutted and remodeled about a year later. When I came back to visit, nobody knew what had happened to it, and the last time I checked that particular poster wasn't available anywhere.
posted by asperity at 9:01 AM on October 2, 2015


"Just how many of us how MLSs anyway?!"

+1 (but my library is a really boring corporate library for an engineering company)
posted by ReginaHart at 11:23 AM on October 27, 2015


« Older Mom News Daily   |   Are you brave? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments