Sunday, January 29, 2012

Recycling the cards from the analog library catalog as art in today's digital world

Recycling the Old Analog Card Catalog As Art
Back in 1994, author Nicholson Baker wrote a passionate lament in the New Yorker called "Discards" in which he mourned the disappearance of card catalogs, not only because they were cool and old, but because he thought they carried information that was forever lost in the switch to digital catalogs. For example, cards that were dog-eared and covered with thumbprints subliminally suggested that the book had been popular with readers. There were also hand-written annotations on many of the cards that were lost. Baker's jeremiad didn't stop the conversion to digital catalogs, but librarians have since come to appreciate Baker's argument for "metadata" that analog cards used to carry, and have been looking for ways to incorporate more of it into electronic catalogs. Basically, what Amazon does -- allowing for comments, reviews and tips on what other books users were interested in. (MPL's new LINKCat does more of that than the old one did, for example.)

Souvenir of the Days of Analog Information Retrieval
But for the cards themselves this is all water under the bridge. The ones that haven't been disposed of yet, are on the way out. I can't think of a better way to give them a send-off than to allow them to be recycled as art or kept as souvenirs. Both happened at "Bookless," the 1-day art and music festival, celebration and fundraiser at the downtown branch of the Madison Public Library, now closed for renovation.

Cards were used as part of installations at "Bookless," and the event also provided materials to turn old catalog cards into artistic souvenirs of the old, analog library with stickers and rubber stamps. It was one of the cooler interactive activities at "Bookless."

Personally, I couldn't stop playing with the Maurice Sendak rubber stamp that I found on the counter. This is the result that I took home.

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