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Do You Remember How to Use a Card Catalog?

When you walk into the Reading Room of the Law Library of Congress, you might notice something you haven’t seen in a while. A card catalog that is still in use, though no new cards have been added since December 1980.

The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is a classification system that was first developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to organize and arrange the book collections of the Library of Congress. Over the course of the twentieth century, the system was adopted for use by other libraries as well, especially large academic libraries in the United States. It is currently one of the most widely used library classification systems in the world.

Within the 21 basic classes of the Library of Congress Classification system, law is classified under the letter K . Because law was the last subject to be classified, patrons still need to use the card catalog in some instances.

The online catalog still contains many law items which have the old classification designations: e.g. LAW United States New York 2 or LAW Europe West Germany 7.  There are also law items in the online catalog which only have the classification “LAW.”  In these instances, the user will need to check the main entry card in the card catalog for additional information needed to retrieve an item from the Law Library’s collection of 2.65 million items. There are also a handful of law items which do not appear in the online catalog at all, and patrons doing historical research are always urged to check the card catalog.

Special thanks to Margaret Wood for contributions to this post.


  1. Richard Marcotte
    September 15, 2010 at 10:05 am

    You bet, walked into the local library with my son and there was no card catalog and I told the librarian that it was just wrong, because as Murphy knows computers break right at the moment you need them most.

  2. Pedro Buitrago
    September 15, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Excelente, aunque hoy en día la influencia de los sistemas de computación y la web tienen la palabra, los libros físicos que posee la humanidad seguirán siendo determinantes para la cultura y la educación.

  3. Laurence Burris
    September 15, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I loved card catalogs! I liked the well thumbed cards in the Suzallo Library at the University of Washington.

  4. Barbara Gellis
    September 16, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I have a discarded one in my living room! Still mostly empty but I’ll find a use for it.

  5. K. Snediker
    September 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Nice post! We still have a card catalog in our library as well. And it is still used sometimes. In our switch to online records, some didn’t make it, so there are still very old items that can only be found in the card catalog.

  6. Caren Rabinowitz
    September 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I’m curious. Do patrons under 30 know how to use the card catalog? It takes a certain amount of patience to follow the see and see also notes. And you have to write down the information not just click on a link.

    As a cataloger at a law firm, when I first transferred holdings from a print catalog to an online catalog, I made sure that the online records looked like a catalog card (albeit one with colors) because I thought attorneys would find it easier to use. I still prefer the layout of a catalog card to that of an online catalog.

    I suppose that gives away my age.

  7. laksescoste
    January 25, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Excellent read. I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. He just bought me lunch because I found it for him! Thus let me rephrase: Thank you for lunch!

  8. sammi fredenburg
    June 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    if i had my way we’d still be using these. they warm my heart just to see them, and if i had my way i’d have a wall of them in my reading room and would have them in lieu of electronic versions in every library. i used to type those cards while working in the school library while a student. thank you for this photo, i hope to use it as my screen saver.

  9. fivss101
    June 30, 2013 at 8:00 am

    oh well. card catalogs are such great! but you also need patience and a lot knowledge to use this.. I just love being in the library and one of the stuffs that i loved most there are those catalogues. <3

  10. Bethany
    January 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    Of course people under 30 still know how to use a card catalog. Sure we are far fewer than I would prefer, but we do exist. I miss card catalogs and I find it sad as a reference librarian, that so many people younger and older have no idea how to use a card and for that matter OPAC cataloguing systems. 🙁

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