Card Catalogs

“In Control Through Communication, her study of 19th century information management, JoAnne Yates identifies five breakthrough technologies. There’s the telephone and telegraph, which handle external communication. For internal communication, the big three are the typewriter, carbon paper (and other duplication technologies), and filing systems, especially the vertical file and card catalog.
The others made information producible, reproducible, and transmittable, but the file systems made information intelligible. If the telegraph was ‘the Victorian Internet,’ the file cabinet and standardized filing were the Victorian operating system. For over a century, it was Windows.”

—Tim Carmody, “Card catalogs and the secret history of modernity.” October 24, 2017.

2 thoughts on “Card Catalogs

  1. I still have a soft spot for card catalogs. I saw a report recently about Joan Rivers and observed in her offices a whole bank of card catalogs filled with notecards bearing jokes categorized by subject. It was a thing of beauty, even to my disorganized brain.


    1. Joan Rivers: Piece of Work was a great documentary, made her much more relatable. I remember them showing her joke card catalog, which was pretty impressive. I imagine it started out as a Rolodex and then went full card catalog at some point.


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