I love card catalogs. I never gave them much thought until about twelve years ago, during grad school, when I read Nicholson Baker's 1994 essay "Discards," a doom-filled ode to the superiority of actual card catalogues over digital databases. This struck a nerve with me, probably tilted me to the techno-skeptic side of the world that I still inhabit, and, perhaps most importantly, sparked a true affection for card catalogues that remains to this day. A year or so later, I bought a small, lovely card catalogue at the Chelsea Flea Market (sadly empty of cards). I used it as a TV stand for several years, and it is now in the library of our house. I have a small collection of old card-catalogue cards, too, though not even enough to fill one drawer.
But now--I have added to my card-catalogue holdings. Last month, the Carnegie Library in my hometown decided to sell their card catalogues--three of them--through a blind-bidding process. Andrew and I visited the library during a trip home and looked at them, and of course we agreed: we had to have them. I have wanted those card catalogues for years, never thinking I'd actually have the chance to acquire them. We sent in our bid, and won. The card catalogues are ours.
I can't overstate how excited I am to have these. Sadly, there are no cards--they were thrown away long ago; I try not to dwell on this. The important thing is that they are beautiful, heavy, well-worn things, surely haunted by library ghosts, and they are now in pieces in my parents' garage, awaiting their transport to New Jersey, where they will hold pride of place in our home.
Reactions to our purchase have been mixed. Confusion is most common; "What are you going to do with those?" is the usual question. I have yet to find anyone as awestruck by the card catalogues as we are (except my parents, who alerted me to the sale and arranged their pickup from the library). Fortunately I have a husband who sees their wonderfulness--who, even without me around, probably would have bid on them himself, and who is happier to have these than, say, a dining-room buffet.
Perhaps there's someone out there who will understand when I say I feel such relief that the card catalogues are ours. They will be safe here, and well loved. We welcome the ghosts they will bring.