Monday, November 29, 2010

Yesterday's database


Historical drawers
London, ON, February 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing activity, is exploring sepia-toned images through Thursday. If you've got one (or two, or...) that you'd like to share, click here and have at it.
I date myself when I say I remember going to the library and starting every research effort with a trip through the card catalog. You never quite knew where these endless drawers of time-worn, dog-eared cards would send you, and that, I think, was half the fun. The other half was simply drinking in the experience. I can still smell the wood and feel the drawers open and close. You took your time moving from one to the other as you tried to build up the best possible shortlist of finds.

It was never as ruthlessly efficient as a Google search, of course, and when you were back home well after midnight, you were pretty much up a creek if your original research was somewhat lacking (yes, I speak from hard-earned experience.) But no search engine could ever deliver the kind of visceral experience of rooting through the card catalog. It was deliberate, and it required you to show up ready to invest a little of yourself in the process. So whenever I come across an old library, I try to explore the drawers a bit to remind myself of what it once felt like.

I admit I miss it a little.

Your turn: What do we lose as we move from real to virtual?

15 comments:

Kalei's Best Friend said...

I think u lose the simplicity of how things work/ came about.

Nancy said...

I appreciate the workmanship that went into those large behemouths. No matter how much they were used, they also performed flawlessly.

Your treatment definitely has a 40s feel to it. :)

Steve Gravano said...

The magic of a black and white image "coming up" in the developer in the darkroom. Yea, digital is quicker and environmentally safer, but the whole experience has become homogenized. When you printed a black and white print you really felt you were creating something.

lakeviewer said...

I miss the side trips down library shelves, a book picked up for no reason at all, sitting next to the one you actually came to get. Your chance of being "surprised" were high at a library search.

And the dates, yes, the chance encounters with friends that were acceptable and innocent too.

Hilary said...

This brought me right back to the N.D.G. Library in my old Montreal haunts. Thanks for the trip back in time.

Mark said...

Great shot. I, too, kind of miss the card catalog. Unlike many kids, I actually took pride in knowing how to use it. I admit that I instantly fell in love with Boolean searches once I was shown the digital way to search (using CD's in huge towers, of course).

srp said...

I remember the card catalogue too. Those English term papers and having to use the local college library for research and then branching out to a larger college library. My teacher was young, doing his Master's and he would take my list of references to Slipper Rock College in the evening and bring me back a stack of books the next day.

The smells of old books and the feeling of a well worn binding.... and those unbelievable codes on the little white tags on the bindings... how DID the librarians keep the books in place?

bruce said...

i agree with srp...

the smell of a library is a awesome...

Levonne said...

I can smell the paper card catalog cards right now. Isn't that incredible? Love it!

dean said...

One thing I miss is the way I interacted with the paper when I was working on something - when I had a new piece of writing to do I'd start longhand, and my first paragraph was always a pleasure to write.

With pen and paper, you work differently, turning the paper sideways to add insertions, drawing arrows and lines to added passages. You can do different grades of deletion, too, a single narrow line through a passage that allowed some hope of redemption, or a heavy, no-way-don't-use-this smudge.

Now, of course, I can type so much faster that my longhand muscles have atrophied. I can't write for long at all now without cramping.

Anna said...

At my precious little library, there is still a card catalog. :) Someday, it will be replaced, but for now it sit in the corner, a proud reminder of "the way things used to be" and in some cases, still are.

Country Mouse Studio said...

I remember these and the hours spent searching :O)

becca said...

card catalog i remember these and truth be told i actually miss them. i know looking things up online is easier but i miss the doing the actually work.

The Gearheads said...

As odd as it is, there seems to be a lot of little things that I didn't care for at the time but somehow miss now. There are moments I long for the "click click click" sound of a rotary dial phone, the smell of carbon you get from a carbureted engine, and classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny. There was a feel of empowerment that came with searching through the card catalog. Thank you for the trip back.

kcinnova said...

Oh, the joy of those card catalogs! I admit that I lost some of my adoration for them in college when I had huge assignments. Just this afternoon, I walked into our library branch, walked over to the computer and quickly searched for the book I wanted. It was marked "checked in" so I easily found it on the shelf.

I miss the simplicity of homework assignments in high school. Sure, we had to go to the library, look for books in the card catalog and READ the books for information, but I loved the shelves full of encyclopedias. Now we seem to rely on Wikipedia and who really knows if the information in there is correct? My high school kids vie for computer time to do their homework and I wonder about the families that don't have a working computer (or internet service!) at home.

I use Google calendar now almost exclusively and when our internet was not working on Sunday evening, I was nearly in a panic. I needed to e-mail a newsletter, plus I had no idea what was on the agenda for Monday and Tuesday!
Perhaps I will go back to a big wall calendar?