The Last Library Card Catalog Cards

(Photo: Pete Berkinshaw)

OCLC stands for Online Computer Library Center. It's a huge non-profit organization in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio that provides library computer support services. Among them, OCLC catalogs books and other items owned by libraries around the world. When you search a library's catalog, the call numbers and subject headings are often selected not by the local library, but by OCLC.

For decades, one way that OCLC provided cataloging services was by printing card catalog cards for libraries. Over the years, it's produced 1.9 billion cards.

Now that service is over. The Columbus Dispatch reports that OCLC has printed its last card catalog cards:

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.

-via Jessamyn West

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I've noticed that it's easier to teach database keywording to library users who have used card catalogs in the past because they already understand subject headings. They don't have to first unlearn Google searching.
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Even though I have not used a library for research in over two decades, I mourn the passing of the card catalog. I fondly remember using it to find the right shelf of books and spending afternoon lifting quotes from relevant chapters.
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