“In Alphabetical Order”

card catalog

One of the most dramatic changes during my life as a student, then professor, now as a genealogy researcher has been the change to necessary research skills. Hard as it may be for some of my youngest readers, THERE WAS NO GOOGLE. In fact, THERE WAS NO INTERNET. While the pervasive presence of both of these has changed many ways of doing things, today I am focused on research.

The first skill, drilled into us from a very early age, was alphabetization. We were given lists of words and asked to put them in order by alphabet. As young children, the task might involve words with different initial letters. Eventually, the demands were more complicated, requiring us to know how to position words with more common beginnings, such as research and reset. We were then equipped to use the card catalog.

Perhaps I needed to write a paper about India for my sixth grade class. I would go into the library and look for the drawer in the card catalog that would hold the appropriate alphabetical section. I might need to remember that Idiot-Incomplete would not hold the card. I would need Incompletion-Indifferent. Within that drawer I would find subsections about India including general books, travel books, history books and so on.

After copying the number of the book down, I would go in search of it. Usually I would have to return to the card catalog numerous times as I narrowed my search. This did have the exercise benefit of walking a lot!

My favorite card catalog moment came when I was in high school. I wanted to see what the library owned about sex, a common high school interest. It was such a common interest that the cards in the “sex” section were all laminated in plastic. Apparently they were wearing out from constant use!

12 thoughts on ““In Alphabetical Order”

  1. How about the TV antenna (the rabbit ears or the huge one we had outside of our house that was like 3 stories tall)? Or penmanship practice (many schools/districts are getting rid of this completely)?


  2. Yep! Been there and done that. And still do now and then. I really don’t trust search engines, or the results they offer up online. I like verification on who complied the data.


  3. Ha! I never encountered laminated cards in any of my card catalog. When my university first switched from the card catalog to using computers it was terrible! They only had 12 terminals for 60,000 students. I suppose now people could use their phones for searches. What I miss about the card catalog was how many interesting things you found by accident as you were looking for your original topic. That just doesn’t happen with computers.


  4. Ha ha, ‘laminated in plastic’ brilliant! I had the dubious honour of being school library for our primary school. I was in charge of the wooden box which held the library cards of the pupils, into which each borrowed book’s ticket was placed. Of course, the pupils’ cards were alphabetised. I loved that role and always hankered after being a librarian as a career. Now of course, everything is entirely different.


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