Card catalogs feel very old but are shockingly new. Merchants stored letters and slips of paper on wire or thread in the Renaissance. (Our word “file” comes from filum, or wire.) But a whole technology, based on scientific principles, for storing, retrieving, and circulating an infinitely extensible batch of documents? That is some modern-ass shit. And it helped create the world we all live in.
I could recite the history of the idea and of the furniture, French bibliographic codes, Melvil Dewey, the standardization of index cards, how vertical filing propagated from railroads into offices and from there into the university. It’s on Wikipedia. Instead, let’s talk about the card catalog as a concept. ….