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Closing the Drawer on Library Catalog Cards

by on December 2, 2015

It happened on October 1st in Dublin, Ohio. You may not know, unless you read the news release on the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) website or saw the short article on cnn.com. Maybe you thought that this event had already taken place, possibly even years ago!

OCLC held its final print run of library catalog cards, bringing to extinction a product that reached its peak production of 131 million cards in 1985. As libraries began to add electronic catalogs, production numbers slowed. Even OCLC eventually created their own cloud-based management system that rendered the cards obsolete. One of the last holdouts? Concordia College Library, who was only using the printed cards as a backup anyway.

Those of us of a certain age remember scouring the card catalogs, often winding our way through a maze of title, author, subject, and cross-reference notes to find the neatly-typed information that would lead us to the right book. As information went digital, many libraries sent those beautiful card catalogs to basements or even auctioned them off as fundraisers. Now they’re often a sought-after flea market item or likely available as an expensive replica at Pottery Barn.

But what to do with those cards? If your library is like mine, the staff has some tucked away in cabinets, nestled next to date due stamps and card pockets. In case you find a few, here are some uses for them in your library:

  1. Coasters. Never near the keyboard of course.
  2. Get out the stapler and make a fabulous bulletin board background.
  3. Let your smaller patrons play with them. A few years ago at my library, we tied Library Science into the Science theme and let children ‘play’ library. They stamped and stickered to their hearts content, just like in the old days.
  4. Jazz up your library duds. Search ‘recycled paper jewelry’ on Pinterest and you’ll have a lovely necklace in no time.
  5. Spend some time trying to match the cards up with the books in your library. You’ve got nothing better to do anyway.
  6. Sell them on Etsy. Really.
  7. Patrons love crafty programs. Check out the Grains of Earth blog for a fun post titled “10 Great Ideas for Upcycling Library Catalog Cards”. Think holiday gift giving!
  8. Disable access to your online catalog on April Fool’s Day and have the patrons use the cards. It will be fun to watch.
  9. School Media Specialists may want to throw a bunch in the air and have the students put them in Dewey order.
  10. And finally, follow the folks at OCLC and recycle them for donut money. Yes, according to the CNN article, the environmentally conscious staff there will still continue to buy donuts even though their stack of catalog cards will soon disappear.

I can’t say I’m too sad to see catalog cards go, maybe because it feels like it happened years ago. Now if we could only get those online catalogs to work the way we want them to… 

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