THE SUBJECT CARD CATALOG after half a century is no more. It was during the academic year of 1941-1942 that the subject cards from the then dictionary card catalog were pulled to set up a second catalog, dividing subject cards from author-title cards. In the December 1941 issue of the Dartmouth College Library Bulletin 1 there is an article written by Cataloger Caroline Whittemore and Librarian of the College Nathaniel Goodrich. The title is "Crisis in the Cards." A paper had been read at a meeting of librarians entitled "The Crisis in Cataloging," which sounded the alarm. Catalogers in larger libraries with burgeoning collections found the dictionary catalog becoming cumbersome and complicated, and a desire to simplify the use of the catalog seemed necessary for easier consultation by the public. At that time headings for subject cards were typed in red while authors were typed in black uppercase letters and title headings in black lowercase letters. There followed two pages of reasoning why Baker Library was taking this action and explaining how to use the divided catalog. So, the Dartmouth College Library followed the way of libraries at the University of California, Duke University, Pennsylvania State University, and Wellesley College.
The online Dartmouth College Information System, of which the Library's catalog is a component part, will take the place of both subject and author-title card catalogs. The cases containing the subject cards were removed from the main hall in late October 1992. The author-title catalog will remain for the time being.
Coincidentally I recalled another early article entitled "Top Soil," which appears in the May 1934 issue of this journal: a piece of whimsy, also written by Librarian Nathaniel Goodrich.2 Top soil refers to the grimy tops of the catalog cards where countless fingers had thumbed through the contents of catalog drawers. Mr. Goodrich had read an article stating that subject cards are used more than author cards. Believing the statement to be not true regarding Baker Library, he undertook a search, and found his belief to be correct. But he nevertheless found the subject cards interesting; the "blackest" were Birth Control, Crime, Drama, Eugenics, Hypnotism, Inquisition, Poetry, Prostitution, Religion, Romanticism, and Sex. Pessimism was "very dark" while Optimism was "beautifully white." Other well-fingered subjects were Casanova, Rabelais, Love, Marriage, Nudism, Phrenology, Oneida Community, and Utopias.
No one can possibly imagine what kinds of information-retrieval devices will be in place fifty years hence; I shall therefore rescue a handful of subject cards for whatever purpose they may serve for some historical exhibition in the next century and centuries to come.
2. 1, No. 11:3-4.
Last Updated: 4/19/17