Farewell to the printed catalogue card

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Every so often I read something that makes me think “Really??”. The other day, I happened to read a press release from OCLC – the organisation that created the very first shared online library catalogue in 1971 – that they had printed their last catalogue card. You don’t have to be that old to remember these perceived remnants of a library time gone by: a small but very long drawer full of little white lined cards held together with a metal rod containing all you needed to know about that item. Perfectly functional, but not the way in which we operate today. I was therefore genuinely surprised to learn that OCLC has only just stopped printing catalogue cards. I was as surprised by this as I was to learn that the British Library only stopped microfilming newspapers in 2010 (which in my head was about three weeks ago, but there again I AM old).

The idea of enabling access to library material – i.e. the starting point of finding information – via a little card seems to very alien compared to the systems we have in place today. Today, you can find out which books are available in the library just by going to a web interface. You can go one step further and search the content of many, many databases by going to a web discovery service such as Discover@Bolton. It seems a world away from those little cards, doesn’t it. Ultimately, using web-based interfaces to enable access to material – whether that’s actually finding out what is available or delving deeper and researching – has improved our library experiences, and while we certainly can feel nostalgic, the world has moved on, and we’re moving on with it.

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