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The Card Catalogue Epilogue

In days of library past, before the age of computers, libraries housed information about their holdings in a card catalogue. These large wooden boxes with a million tiny drawers, held information about books, photograph, maps, and more. They could tell you the title, the author, the year of publication, their call number, basically all the information that is now stored in a library’s online catalogue. Well, as technology took over the question for many libraries has been “What do we do with these wonderful symbols of a library?” For many, the catalogues were surplused or discarded in another way, but for certain thrifty folk these card catalogues have taken on new life with new purpose.

A few months ago, the University of Idaho Special Collections and Archives made the tough decision to finally say goodbye to a few card catalogues full of cards. All the information on the cards had been transferred years previously, and existed in at least two alternate forms. And unfortunately, one of the catalogues had succumbed to mold. So it was decided that we had to dispose of the moldy catalogue, but had a much harder time deciding what to do with the other two perfectly fine catalogues. We didn’t want to just say goodbye, we felt that there was something else they could be used for. And with a little creative thinking, we discovered that they would be perfect for storing rolled photographs that could not be stored nicely with the rest of their collections.

In order for this to work a few alterations had to be made because a card catalogue, no matter how lovely, isn’t always made of the best material for preservation. By removing the metal rod that kept the cards in place there was now a hole in the front. Also there were some metal components that we didn’t want to directly interact with our materials. So, we used some arts and craft skills to make our catalogue drawer more preservation friendly. First, I cut out some blue board that we often use to make custom size boxes to line the drawer. This would allow the rolled items to be safely surrounded by acid free materials and not interact with any of the surround materials.Also, by placing a piece of blue board over the hole created by removing the metal rod, we were also able to limit a point of entry for any possible pests.

Catalogue Drawer with Metal Bar Removed
Catalogue Drawer with Metal Bar Removed
Blue board Lined Drawer
Blue board Lined Drawer

The endeavor of repurposing our card catalogue, ultimately pretty simple. It has worked well for us so far, and as a benefit with have many open drawers now for rolled storage we did not have before, and we are thrilled.

Labelled Catalogue Drawer
Labelled Catalogue Drawer
Rolled Photographs in Drawer
Rolled Photographs in Drawer

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