‘Old technology never dies; it just fades away’

As the blog’s resident “harbinger of doom,” I couldn’t possibly let this story pass by unnoticed:

Nothing lasts forever.

So it will be said about the University of Michigan Library’s card catalogs when they are removed from their home in the bowels of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library on March 8.

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Twelve and a half million volumes strong, the card catalog has been in disuse for more than 20 years, ever since the university established the MIRLYN electronic catalog in 1988.

By 1991, every book in the library system had been catalogued onto MIRLYN, and the card catalogs were a relic of the past.

OK, so they’re really just getting rid of something they haven’t been using for the past 20 years. And I can’t say I’m sorry that I won’t have the opportunity to sift through a real-live book catalog for much longer. The digital versions are so much faster, even if quite a bit less tactile.

The university plans to try selling the old catalogs before simply disposing of them, but they would need a significant number of nostalgia-laden folks to find homes for all of them in time. (It’s too bad you can’t fit CD cases in those little index-card-sized drawers. I’d be interested myself, if that was the case.)

But wait. It gets better. (Or worse, depending on your persuasion.)

Courant also discussed the ongoing Michigan Digitization Project to digitize the university’s seven million volumes. Google has scanned approximately 5 million of the university’s books, and scans about 30,000 a week.

Already, Google has scanned in books from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, the grad library, the Buhr shelving facility and others. The project should be completed in 2011, making millions of books available to the university community and the general public via the Internet.


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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