History Room
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UC Berkeley Library
History Room

Library Catalogs

catalog hall

Rowell said, "I sat down at the librarian's desk and saw pen, ink, and pencils, and pulled out a drawer where I found a catalogue, a narrow quarto volume, with the entries written on the right-hand page, alphabetically arranged."

The earliest catalogs of the great national and scholarly libraries were simply manuscript books, with handwritten entries and spaces for new additions. The main problem of the book-type catalog, of course, was the insertion of entries for new acquisitions.


The solution to this problem was the card catalog, which evolved during the 19th century. Each entry had its own card, and each card contained only one entry. In principle, such catalogs could grow in size indefinitely; any new entry could be filed between any two existing entries. The problem with the card catalog was maintenance. The addition of a new book meant creation of multiple cards: author, title, series, a card for each subject heading, etc. At the time of conversion from card to computer catalogs, the cases for the Doe collection alone nearly filled the Reference Hall and the Loan Hall (now the East Reading Room).

The advent of the computer has dramatically expanded the ability of libraries to provide extensive bibliographic services. All of the information previously dispersed over multiple cards is now contained in a single entry. A user can search the entire contents of the library in a few seconds. The results of those searches can be limited by multiple categories (author, title, subject, language, year of publication) and sorted by any combination of those categories.

catalog card card catalog
catalog UCB Pathfinder

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