The Case of the Library's Disappearing Punched Card
2019 Baker Street Almanac 277
8 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: 2019
I did not know that library punched cards were in danger of disappearing until I accidentally found one. The punched card was on the inside front cover of an early U.S. edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles from the collection of the Library of the University of North Carolina. It was a relic of the past and felt especially so from the way that I was seeing the book — as a digitized copy available online. What struck me most was not a feeling of the punched card’s obsolescence but a fear that its use in history was on the verge of being lost because, in the rush to digitize, we never made plans to save artifacts of the library’s work. The copy, which had been digitized by the Internet Archive in 2015, only captured part of the punched card; it was folded over at the top and half obscured by a book pocket that held it. While digitization practices had preserved the full text of the book, they had failed to preserve the punched card, a remarkable early technology on the path to automation in library circulation systems. Fortunately, the physical copy of the book at UNC was still accessible, so the punched card — and its story — was not lost yet.
Keywords: library, circulation, IBM, punched card, digitization
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