The Last Card | Arts & Culture

The Last Card

The Last Card

The Hatcher Graduate Library.

There are constant reminders of how computers save researchers time, but one of the most telling signs of how computerization has affected space in libraries might be the discontinuance of card catalogs, once the home-away-from-home for researchers and students finding their way through the labyrinth of records, documents and out-of-print volumes.

Millions of reference cards will be removed from the basement floor in the U-M Hatcher Graduate Library.

Millions of reference cards will be removed from the basement floor in the U-M Hatcher Graduate Library.

During the next several weeks, 108 catalogues including millions of reference cards will be removed from the basement floor in the U-M Hatcher Graduate Library. The removal marks a watershed as U-M remains in the vanguard of institutions creating worldwide access to digitized collections, said Paul Courant, U-M Librarian and Dean of Libraries.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” he said. “For many of us, learning to use the library started with learning to use the card catalog. With the removal of the catalogs comes an opportunity for us to realize the speed of change affecting libraries, researchers and students.”

Today, using the modern-day library comes with an entirely different set of rules and technological enhancements, resulting in what Courant calls the emerging revolution in the democratization of information and knowledge, from Ann Arbor to Nigeria to China.

“Our ambition is to make the riches of our libraries accessible to anyone who wants it,” he said. “Not being physically in Ann Arbor isn’t a prerequisite in accessing the collection. Anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, can read the out-of-copyright digitized material in our collection.”

In the near future, the number of books and amount of material accessible through an Internet connection will grow exponentially.

U-M is among a group of 26 leading U.S. research libraries pooling their collections into the HathiTrust, a digital repository to provide scholars with an electronic search of the largest-ever digitized material collection, including full-text searching.  Currently, the repository includes 5.4-million volumes.

U-M will work to create a digital collection that can be accessible by anyone through the use of the internet.

U-M will work to create a digital collection that can be accessible by anyone through the use of the internet.

In addition, U-M and Google, Inc. are working together to digitize the entire print collection of the University Library. And, U-M also makes available print-on-demand books for anyone requesting a copy of an out-of-print book from its digitized collection.

Printed records like those in the card catalogs have been around since ancient times. From the mid 1970s through mid 1980s, those records were converted to online electronic records. The last item was added to the catalog in 1988. Approximately 12.5-million cards were digitized by 1989. At its height, the catalog included cards referencing 6.1 million volumes.

“Not too long ago, in order to find what was in the collection you had to be here, and now that whole world has changed,” said Barbara MacAdam, associate U-M librarian for public services. “Removing the card catalog reminds us of how fast and far we’ve come in short time.”

Note: A section from the catalog will be on display at the library. Card catalogs, including cards, can be purchased from U-M Property Disposition after March 8.