Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New

On one of my recent visits to the library, I noticed a cardboard box set on a table near the information desk with a little sign on it that said "Ever wonder what happened to the card catalog? Here it is!" Inside the box were stacks of the familiar index cards with manual typeset printed on them. The sign went on to offer you to take as many of these cards as you wished, use them for scrap paper, to make a little notebook out of them, or simply to show them off to your kids who might not remember such a thing.
Of course, I took a little stack. They're now sitting on top of my television, and who knows what I'll do with them. But I couldn't pass them up, because it is a little sad to me that no one will be pulling out those long tiny drawers and paging through the little cards to find a book and its place on the shelf, grabbing a little wooden stub of a pencil and jotting a call number on a scrap piece of paper from a basket. I have such vivid memories of using the card catalog in my elementary school library, a place that is forever linked with the perfume of the librarian with perfectly coiffed white hair who ran the place like it was a battleship. She and her husband sat in front of us in church, and even after I moved on to junior high, I still felt like I was in the library smelling her perfume on Sunday mornings.
While our local library had mostly upgraded to microfiche machines, I still remember card catalogs being around and available when I was growing up. Even in college, (and I'm NOT that old), my research was done primarily using the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Can you even imagine having to pull down a big bound book and page through it for a location of an article, then go find the actual magazine on the shelf?? But I did.
What's interesting though, is that this same phasing out of the card catalog was a plot point in the book that I recently finished reading. Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell is a thriller, somewhat in the DaVinci Code tradition, that follows a director of Shakespeare plays on a harrowing journey to find a lost Shakespearean play and to avoid a killer who is on the same path. (Thank you to MommyTime at Mommy's Martini for suggesting this great read!) The action starts at the Globe Theater in London, and continues to Harvard, the Folger Library, and the American Southwest. I would definitely recommend it if you are at all literary minded, and are looking for a fast paced, absorbing and also well written book.
In the book, the protagonist's mentor has left her clues to help her find this lost play, and one of the clues leads her to the card catalog the mentor has saved from destruction by the library system of Harvard. A clue is a call number, and note is written on the back of that card. I was just tickled by this detail in the book, and couldn't believe it when I came across the box 0' cards at my own library so soon after.
The other thing is, Interred With Their Bones was the first book I read in its entirety on my new cool gadget, the Kindle. I was lucky enough to receive one for Christmas from my dear husband, who thought far enough in advance to beat the Oprah rush, and I actually got mine on Christmas morning. There were a few glitches, in that the wireless connectivity that makes the Kindle so cool didn't actually work on my first one, but eventually I got a new one, and voila! I am officially a cool kid, at least in my own mind.
I don't have the Kindle 2, and it's a little sad that came out so soon after I received mine. But, I'll just go with the idea that I'm an "early adopter." and feel cool like that.
Anyway, this post is getting long enough as it is, so I'll save some of my other thoughts on my Kindle for tomorrow or another day, but I just wanted to share an interesting little experience, one that I ultimately had on a device that some might say is a sign of the decline of the book and yet another example of the computer taking over. I disagree, though. If anything, the Kindle is an attempt to reclaim an authentic reading experience while taking advantage of new technology.
The primary aim of the device was to replicate the experience of "losing yourself in a book" and having the delivery mode of the words and ideas melt away as you enter the world of the book. They went to great lengths to have the screen be NOT like a computer screen, and instead like ink on the page. For me, so far, it has worked. When I pick it up and turn it on, it's no different than a paperback book, and in some ways is easier to hold.
I'll share more about what I love (and don't love) about my Kindle in my next post. Until then, I'll be shuffling my card catalog cards and trying to find a use for them that doesn't involve them getting lost in a drawer.


MommyTime said...

I LOVE these memories of using the card catalogue as well. I have vivid memories of being taught how to use it at the beginning of every year of elementary school, and of thinking with contempt that any baby could surely remember the simple system from one year to the next.

I'm so glad you loved the novel -- even more glad that you saved a few cards for yourself. I wish I had a little stack of my own too, for what purpose apart from nostalgia, I could not say.

And I will eagerly await your discussion of the Kindle. I keep wondering what all the hubub is all about!

mep said...

I too have great memories of the card catalog. I had forgotten about the Reader's Guide until you just mentioned it, but of course that's what I used in college too. How different it was doing my graduate school research.

I also loved the little due date stamp. I received such a stamp in a gift last year (part of a bunch of gift tags and card-making supplies). I was so excited, thinking, "Bub and I can play library." But then, we watched an episode where Caillou goes to the library and his books were scanned to be checked out. I realized the due date stamper will have no meaning for Bub.

Glad you got lost in a good book on your Kindle . . . and glad to have another book to add to my list. I'll look forward to hearing more about the Kindle from an early adopter.