Traditionalists tear their hair out on hearing of yet another library destroying its card catalog and breaking up the wooden cabinets of neat little drawers in which one used to find them. Bad enough they junk the actual books: but the catalog, that index of human knowledge too!

Atlas Obscura brings us the heartening news that the Library of Congress’ Card Catalog, though redundant, still survives in the basement, occupying a city block. Here it is in operation in 1919.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a piece on it, stimulated by the publication of the LOC’s book The Card Catalog with a Foreword by Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress. The story ends with the mysterious notice “The Library of Congress is working with universities and tech companies to create the next iteration of the card catalog — but unfortunately for all you tactile types, it probably won’t be stored in tiny wooden drawers.”

Three months later NPR brought us news of that “next iteration”. Twenty five million records from the LOC card catalog have been made available on-line. The Internet Archive reports these records may be found at data.gov. These records are likely to be of interest to bibliographers rather than the man on the Clapham omnibus.

Here’s a set of LOC Library Cards, produced back in the days when publishers of reference books would compete by saving the librarians the bother of getting the index cards themselves by arranging for them to be printed and loosely inserted into the books as part of the initial production process. Note they are pre-drilled to fit on the metal rods which would prevent light-fingered readers removing them from those little drawers. The cards would come with preprinted record number stickers ready to stick onto the book’s spine, and that little sleeve which you may still be able to first pasted into the front of an old library book in which the withdrawal record was contained.

If you feel the need to read these cards, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.