Any libraries in the US that still use card catalogs?

The large central public library in my city still has a good portion of its collection indexed by a traditional card catalog. Yes, traditional index cards, and no computer equivalent.

Do you know of other public or collegiate libraries in the United States that still employ card catalogs to such a large extent? (FWIW, at the branch library near my house, there are old card pockets in the back of books with copyright dates as late as 1999!)

Not a library, but I heard on the news today that Arlington National Cemetery still uses cards to keep track of burials and grave sites instead of a computerized system. (There are over 300,000 people interred there.)

It doesn’t make any sense. I’ve never seen a card catalog in a modern library. I visit all the libraries I can when I travel.
Have you asked them why they maintain last millennium’s data organizing hardware?

Not in the US, but my private library in Bangkok, the Neilson Hays Library, has card catalogues. Oddly though, they do seem to be computerized at the front desk, at least to some extent. But I love the card catalogues and hope they never get rid of them. Fits perfectly with the 19th-century French-style architecture.

The private library I belong to has a computer system for newer books but they also have a very large, traditional card catalog for their thousands of older books.

If it were up to me, I’d do away with the computer system entirely. I’ve seen people flummoxed by the card catalog and utterly incapable of finding a book on a shelf. It’s pathetic to see people rendered so helpless when their keyboards have been removed.

If people have trouble using the card catalog system, wouldn’t it make more sense to keep the computerized system?

IMHO, people should be capable of doing research without a computer. They should also be capable of figuring out the alphabet and the dewey decimal system (or whatever system a given library uses) without having their hand held.

All of the above, btw, should be completely intuitive. I’d do away with computer systems and make everyone do a “find a book” test. Those who failed? No library for them that way I’d be surrounded by fewer stupid people.

Maybe people should be able to do research without a computer, but as computers become more prevalent, people will rely more upon them. I, for one, do not know how to use a slide rule. And I don’t know the algorithm to compute square roots by hand (although I suppose I could derive one using Newton’s method).

I am not particularly surprised to hear that there are still some card catalogs in use, particularly in large libraries. Accurately transcribing all that data into a computerized database is bound to be a huge and expensive operation

Yup. The card catalog is an invaluable tool for staff in fixing problems in the OPAC – the data was usually transcribed piece-in-hand, not by auto batch load, and there’s often more info on the card than will fit in a MARCette or brief record, which is useful when trying to run down a mismarked or misidentified piece in a large collection with an enormous backlog of neglected cataloging. Add in a long history of sloppy transfers from departmental libraries, mixed copy lines, and a busy, busy circ department with high demand, and I consult the card catalog (or shelf list) for my sleuthing almost daily.

The main people who dislike the shelf-list are not the patrons, who tend to see it as quaint and decorative, but my superiors, who fear that it makes them look more like bun-wearing shushers than Carrie Bradshaw in Buddy Holly glasses. Tsk.

Should have edited to add: Of course, they feel much the same about books. Double tsk!

I wouldn’t be surprised if some small private libraries – athenaeums., geneaology libraries, local historical associations – still had card catalogs. But I don’t know of any. All the libraries I’ve been to have switched to computers. Even the town libraries around here that are having severe financial difficulties are all computerized.

Which city in upstate NY is this? That catalog looks to small for anything but a small town.

This week’s episode of Modern Marvels is timely - the subject was the Library of Congress, and sure enough, the LoC maintains massive physical card catalogs.

It would make the most sense to do a slow transition. That way, as the staff has a slow or down time, they could remove the book out of the card catalog and put it on the computer.

The Chicago Public Library still has a lot of old books that aren’t in the computer and are basically in limbo. If you go to the downtown library and pick out a book before say 1940 and try to check it out, most likely this won’t work. The clerk will say, “Sorry I can’t check this out. You need to go to the reference librarian on the floor where you got it and have her put it in the system. Then come down and I’ll check it out for you.”

Oddly enough they won’t put it in the system till you check it out. I tried this three times, I had books and they weren’t in the system. So I said, “OK I won’t check it out.” I figured the clerk would set it aside and have the librarian put it in the system. But the clerk just throws it in a pile to be reshelved. Unless you specifically ask to have it put in the system, the book will stay in limbo

Of course they do - plenty of small libraries have never changed over, because the switch is obviously expensive. My first job as a librarian was at an art museum library with a card catalog, for which I had not been adequately prepared by library school! (I was the only staff member.)

ETA - I’ve seen plenty of universities where, say, gov docs or special collections are still on cards. USC (the real one, not the one in California) I know for sure has its gov docs on cards.


I also visit libraries when I travel, and about three years ago, I ran across one in a tiny town with a card catalog. I asked the librarians about it and they said it was purely a matter of cost and for their library the money was better spent elsewhere. I did just look at their website, and apparently they just got a grant for a computerized catalog and were inviting people in to learn how to use it.

As of 2005 or so, NC State’s library still had a physical card catalog, but I was told that it was no longer being updated. Everything I ever needed to find was in the computer-based catalog.

I don’t have a problem with people relying on computers. I do have a problem with people who can’t function without them. I’ve got no idea how to use a slide rule or calculate square roots by hand. Looking at their Wikipedia articles, however, I’m pretty sure I could figure both out without needing a hug. The people I’ve seen at my library are completely at a loss when confronted with index cards. There’s a

One of the posters in this thread can’t figure out why some libraries would still use traditional card catalogs. The thought that some libraries don’t have the budget to purchase, install and maintain a computer system doesn’t enter his head even though it’s a no-brainer. Computers, IMHO, remove people’s need to process information and work out problems for themselves. It’s a function they never learn so they’re helpless when their PC has a hard drive failure. I think that’s sad. YMMV and sorry for going off-topic.

Well, the card catalogs ARE very much inferior as a cataloging tool. They’re much more difficult to keep up to date (check out subject headings for “Negro”, “Afro-American”, etc.), they generally provide far inferior subject access (computer catalogs can assign as many subject headings as you like to a record) and don’t provide keyword access at all, so things like a book’s table of context are never indexed. Ever try to find a short story in a collection in a card catalog? We had print reference sources just for that.

I’m no luddite by any means. Computers are valuable tools for going through large quantities of materials or hard to find materials. My point, if I have one, is that if I didn’t have a computer available to me, I could still do the work/research etc. I needed to do. More importantly, I’d certainly be willing to try and function without Windows 7. IME, there are many people out there who are simply incapable of functioning if the information they need isn’t served up to them on a computer screen.