By Cathy Johnson
The old saying that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes needs amending. There is a third item that has always existed but seems even more pervasive in today’s world, and that is change. Evolution is an appropriate synonym for change.
Now we’re not talking Darwin here, although the premise is similar, but it is true that living things adapt over time to the conditions in which they exist. Resistance to change can sometimes be futile, and in many cases it takes a lot of time to accept adaptations. Human beings can be particularly stubborn.
A great example of the theory of evolution exists within the institution known as the library. For many years it was known as the card catalogue. Most people can conjure up an image of it pretty quickly: that oaken chest, sometimes pretty gigantic, with small long drawers with brass handles and label holders. Inside, in alphabetical order, were dog-eared cards containing information, sometimes cryptic, about all the books in that particular library.
The card catalogue is pretty symbolic of the library, in many ways. But it, too, has undergone a great change, starting back in the 1960s and1970s as cataloging started going electronic. (The Library of Congress was the pioneer of this process). Most libraries followed suit, and the oak-drawer filing system
was demoted to a back-up role or done away with entirely.
Progress (another word for change) was still to be made. The electronic card catalog of each library existed only at that library’s site, until bigger and better search engines began the process of linking them. With a system first called MARC, or machine-readable cataloging, that process began. The 21st century goal is to make the linked library cataloguing of the entire past century available to library patrons from any computer, and increasingly, so will the books and materials themselves be. This initiative is also being led by the Library of Congress and is called Bibframe.
For those who are not willing to let the oak library catalog go away completely, like the Big Rapids Community Library, there is re-purposing. Their card catalogue, which for decades provided the seeds of ideas for thousands of readers, has a new life as a seed library. And instead of index cards, the drawers contains packets of seeds to grow a wide variety of plants and vegetables to nourish both the minds and bodies of library patrons. Just like the card catalogue of old, anyone can peruse it, but you must be a library card holder to take advantage of all the riches within.
Change, evolution, adaptation. Plants and animals undergo it, and so do humans and their institutions. If you have a soft spot in your heart for the card catalogue of old, it’s still there, just filling a different role. And if you’d like to know what the Library of Congress has done with its old card catalogue, it can still be visited in the sub-basement of their Madison Building where it lines a wall that is a block long.