10 Fun Uses for Old Card Catalogs

Sonja Flemming/CBS © CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
Sonja Flemming/CBS © CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The library catalog has gone digital, but that doesn’t mean all the old oaken card catalog cabinets have been flung on the ash heap of history. Fans of the TV series The Big Bang Theory have blogged that they covet Sheldon’s geek chic catalog (above). Here are some of the novel ways creative people (including many librarians) have renewed card catalogs.

1. Sewing supplies smartly sorted

Tricia Royal from Chicago, Ill., who blogs about textile arts at www.bitsandbobbins.com, set up this system.

2. Wine warehouse where we would never suspect

The Los Angeles Public Library removed most of the catalog cabinets from the Central Library rotunda, leaving the drawers that were built into the walls and replacing the labels with plaques honoring donors. The Doheny Library at the University of Southern California went a step further. The catalog drawers now have locks so donors can leave gifts for their families. Wine bottles fit neatly, it seems.

Shannon Klug of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities made the same discovery; that's her catalog above.

For some reason, she wanted us to know that the Dewey number for wine is 641.22.

3. Postcards perched at peculiar angles

Fierce Bunny provided this view.

 

4. Secret stash of spare shoes

Someone with the Twitter handle @amycsc in library Special Collections at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Va., says, “I used some of the drawers in that card catalog to hold my emergency back-up shoes at the office.”

5.  Dragons dreaming in a drawer

Librarian Jill E. Erickson of Falmouth, Mass., notes that the Dewey number should be 635 for gardening.

6. Crimson casters carry a coffee table

Molly Dolan of Morgantown, W. Va., crafted this clever contraption.

7. A sorting system for salty snacks

Liz Fabry of Durham, N.C., captured this view of the craft brewery Fullsteam.

8. Cameras carefully catalogued

Andrea Wiggins, a post-doctoral fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., notes, “Someone carved ‘Led Zeppelin’ into one of the pull-out shelves, but there's no match for that vintage institutional yellow wood stain for refinishing, so it just adds more character.”

9. Drawers drafted to document Darwin’s deeds

Photo courtesy the Minneapolis College of Art and Design Library

In Spring 2012, Jen Caruso’s students at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design used an old card catalog to create a “cabinet of curiosities” relating to Charles Darwin's voyage on HMS Beagle. The inspiration was the "Crystal Palace" exhibition of 1851 in London.  (The citrus fruit refers to its use in preventing scurvy during long sea voyages, which bananas do not.)

10. Cat-alog

Photo courtesy of Bart Everson

Well, that's adorable.

Card catalog cabinets have also been used as convenient sort-and-store devices for scarves, jewelry, flatware, tools and hardware, art supplies — and just about anything else that fits within a space 3 ¼” x 5 ¼” x 15".

So what’s in Sheldon’s catalog on The Big Bang Theory? Bill Prady, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, told us the contents have never been revealed, but according to a 2009 article, some drawers are labeled “Luke,” “Vader” and “Solo.”

5 Controversial Facts About Melvil Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System

iStock/TerryJ
iStock/TerryJ

Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System, was born on December 10, 1851. Among other things, Dewey was a self-proclaimed reformer, so when working for the Amherst College library in the 1870s, he began to reclassify the facility’s books and how they were organized.

Though the system has gone through plenty of changes over the years, it’s still in wide use all over the world today and forever changed how libraries categorize their books. It has also caused a handful of controversies. In honor of Dewey Decimal Day, we dug into the organizational system—and its creator’s—dark side.

1. Melvil Dewey co-founded the American Library Association, but was forced out because of offensive behavior.

Melvil Dewey was an extremely problematic figure, even in his time. Though he co-founded the American Library Association (ALA), his often-offensive behavior—particularly toward women—didn’t make him a lot of friends.

In Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey, author Wayne A. Wiegand described Dewey’s “persistent inability to control himself around women” as his “old nemesis.” In 1905, Dewey and several fellow ALA members took a cruise to Alaska following a successful ALA conference, with the purpose of discussing the organization’s future. Four women who were part of the trip ended up publicly accusing Dewey of sexual harassment—a rarity for the time. Within a year, Dewey was forced to step down from his involvement with the organization he helped to create.

2. Dewey required applicants to his School of Library Economy to submit photos.


A History of the Adirondacks, by Alfred Lee Donaldson (1921) // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1887, Dewey founded the School of Library Economy at Columbia College, where 90 percent of his students were female. It was long rumored that in addition to basic information like name, age, and educational background, Dewey required that prospective female students also submit their bust sizes. While this rumor was eventually proven to be false, Dewey did ask women to submit photos, often noting that “You cannot polish a pumpkin.”

3. A Howard University librarian reorganized Dewey's original system because of its racial bias.

Dewey’s personal biases spilled over into his creation, too, and it has taken sincere effort and work to right those wrongs. In the 1930s, Howard University librarian Dorothy Porter helped create a new system to undo the racist way Dewey’s system treated black writers. As Smithsonian reported:

All of the libraries that Porter consulted for guidance relied on the Dewey Decimal Classification. “Now in [that] system, they had one number—326—that meant slavery, and they had one other number—325, as I recall it—that meant colonization,” she explained in her oral history. In many “white libraries,” she continued, “every book, whether it was a book of poems by James Weldon Johnson, who everyone knew was a black poet, went under 325. And that was stupid to me.”

In addition to charges of racism, the DDS has also been accused of being homophobic. Early editions of the system classified books on or regarding LGBT issues under Abnormal Psychology, Perversion, Derangement, as a Social Problem, or even as Medical Disorders.

4. Its 'religion' section is skewed heavily toward Christianity.

The DDS section on religion starts at 200, and no other religion besides Christianity is covered until 290. Given that there are more than 4000 religions in the world, saving a mere 10 numbers for their classification doesn’t leave a lot of room for thorough coverage or exploration. Though some changes have been made as new editions of the system have been introduced, the process of restructuring the entire 200s is a project that has yet to be undertaken.

5. Critics of the system would prefer libraries take the Barnes & Noble approach.

The Dewey Decimal System is the most used library classification system, with the Chicago Tribune estimating that more than 200,000 libraries in 135 countries use it. But it’s far from a perfect system. As such, many libraries are experimenting with other organizational techniques, and many are dropping the DDS altogether.

The main complaint that public libraries have is that the Dewey Decimal System does not make reading exciting, and that there are other ways of categorizing and organizing books that are more like that of general bookstores. By doing away with the numbers (which are hard to remember for general library patrons), some libraries are classifying books simply by category and organizing by author—a system they've begun referring to as "Dewey-lite."

6 Fast Facts About Nelly Sachs

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Today, on the 127th anniversary of her birth, a Google Doodle has been created in memory of writer Nelly Sachs, who died of colon cancer in 1970 at the age of 78. The German-Swedish poet and playwright wrote movingly about the horrors of the Holocaust, which she narrowly escaped by fleeing her home and starting a new life in a foreign land. Here are six things to know about Sachs.

1. She was born in Germany.

Sachs was born in Berlin on December 10, 1891. As the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, she grew up in the city's affluent Tiergarten section. She studied dance and literature as a child, and also started writing romantic poems at age 17.

2. She almost ended up in a concentration camp.

Sachs's father died in 1930, but she and her mother Margarete stayed in Berlin. In 1940, the Gestapo interrogated the two women and tore apart their apartment. They were told they had a week to report to a concentration camp, so they decided to flee the country. Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf, with whom Nelly had corresponded for years, saved their lives by convincing the Swedish royal family to help the two women escape to Sweden.

3. She worked as a translator.

Once Nelly and her mother reached Stockholm, Sachs began learning Swedish and ultimately took up work as a translator. She translated poetry from Swedish to German and vice versa.

4. She was nearly 60 when she published her first book of poetry.

Sachs’s first volume of poetry, In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death), was published in 1947. In this anthology as well as later poems, she used religious imagery to evoke the suffering of her time and the Jewish people.

5. She won the German Book Trade's Peace Prize.

In 1965, Sachs won the Peace Prize from the German Book Trade. She shared a message of forgiveness when she accepted the award from her compatriots. “In spite of all the horrors of the past, I believe in you,” she said.

6. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature on her 75th birthday.

Sachs and Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. According to The Nobel Prize’s website, Sachs was recognized "for her outstanding lyrical and dramatic writing, which interprets Israel's destiny with touching strength.”

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