The Library of Congress released a fascinating history of card catalogs. Wait, come back!


The Library of Congress just released a book on the history of the card catalog, and while I can physically feel you clicking away from this article even as I type, I am here to tell you that The Card Catalog is actually weirdly fascinating.

The Card Catalog makes a persuasive case that cataloging knowledge is fundamental to the acquisition and spread of knowledge, and that a working library catalog is, in some ways, a basic necessity of civilization. And since cataloging is a calling that attracts neurotic and obsessive personalities, the history of the library catalog charts a weird, twisty path, with a lot of back-tracking followed by enormous leaps forward.

Here are five of the most interesting things I learned about library cataloging from The Card Catalog.

The first known library catalog dates back to 2000 B.C.

It was found in the Sumerian city of Nippur, and it’s a little 2 1/2 by 1 1/2-inch clay tablet that lists 62 literary works, including The Epic of Gilgamesh. Scholars think writing developed around 3500 B.C., so the library tablet suggests that cataloging came about 1,500 years later — not all that long, in the grand scheme of things.

The British destroyed much of the Library of Congress’s first collection during the War of 1812

The assistant Librarian of Congress at the time, J.T. Frost, tried desperately to save the books as the British prepared to march on Washington, but almost everything had been requisitioned by the army. Frost found a single cart and a single clerk and salvaged what he could, and the British army used the rest of the books as kindling when they burned the White House and the Capitol.

As a PR move, it was disastrous. The British newspapers were filled with editorials denouncing the Library’s burning and declaring …read more

Source:: Vox – All

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