Review of The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2017. Find on Goodreads.

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures is a well-written introduction to the basic concepts of library cataloging and bibliographic control. The author does a masterful job of condensing the history of cataloging from ancient times to the present for general readers. But who is the author? The book’s cover and title page prominently display “The Library of Congress” in the author position above “Foreword by Carla Hayden.” Likewise, the copyright page and Cataloging-in-Publication data give authorship credit to The Library of Congress. Once we dig deeper and read the introduction signed by Peter Devereaux, we gather that he must be the author. Our suspicions are confirmed, finally, by Devereaux’s acknowledgments at the end of the book. I find this treatment of the book’s actual author to be questionable. I do realize he must have written the book as part of his job duties at the Library of Congress, but I still feel that he deserves more prominent billing.

The concept behind this book is similar to an exhibition catalog from a library or art museum. Explanatory text on the history and function of card catalogs is interspersed with lavish illustrations, in this case mostly book covers accompanied by sometimes corresponding catalog cards. I say sometimes because the cards selected do not always match the book pictured next to them. This is acceptable but it would have been better if the author pointed this out in every case, not just some cases. Consistency is, after all, a cornerstone of library cataloging.

Some of the cards depicted seem to be copyright file cards or authority file cards, neither of which are explained in the text. In fact, most of the cards are not described at all even though the book’s design would have allowed for it. What does the ink stamp “Condemned” on the card for Jack London’s Call of the Wild (shown on page 133) mean? We are left to wonder. The card on page 191—which is a See reference card—refers to Carson McCullers with a male pronoun but is corrected in pencil to a female pronoun. This is an intriguing detail in the history of the card catalog, especially given the importance of her sexuality to McCullers’ biography and work. Many of the cards depicted leave the reader wanting to know more. In a rare case of the author providing more detail in a caption about a Carol M. Highsmith photograph on page 181, the photograph itself is actually missing from the book. This is an unfortunate oversight that hopefully will be corrected in later printings.

Lastly, a pet peeve. There are quotations throughout the book that are uncited. We can only assume that they may be found in one of the ten books listed in the short bibliography and then we’ll have to dig for them.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures and even had difficulty putting it down a few times. I wish the book were manufactured in the United States given that it is a federally-sanctioned publication but I understand the economics faced by Chronicle Books in the modern, global publishing environment. Book lovers, library lovers, and lovers of organization will enjoy this book.

The Essence of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

A few days ago, I finished reading Aldo Leopold’s groundbreaking, award-winning A Sand County Almanac, first published in 1949. Leopold is widely considered to be the father of the modern conservation movement. For anyone with a short attention span, the book can be summarized by the following quotation from the foreword:

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

On this Earth Day, take a walk in nature, even your own back yard, and observe the teeming ecosystem around you. It is the community to which you belong.