Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Library of Cards: Reconnecting the Scholar and the Library

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Library of Cards: Reconnecting the Scholar and the Library

Article excerpt


According to my Goodreads account, I read Markus Krajewski's Paper Machines (2011) between March 20th and 28th of 2015. According to the notes I keep in Evernote, I first bookmarked Why Cards Are the Future of the Web (Adams, 2014) on June 1st, 2014. Sometime between March 20th and the March 27th deadline for presentation proposals for the 2015 Access Conference, I was struck by the idea that the digital card was much more than just a familiar design pattern that the mobile web was seemingly racing towards (and that the library was slowly retreating from). I realized that the ability of the Twitter card to embed a remarkable amount of metadata (Perez, 2010) could be repurposed to capture bibliographic metadata, if only Twitter would accommodate a card standard that was open to all.

In the course of my research, I discovered a card platform built on the open standards of HTML5. Thus, the systems that libraries and scholars have built, based on paper cards, still holds the potential to reconnect the ideas of the scholar and the library. When I first put forward my proposal, I did not intend to use the occasion to introduce and explore such ideas as Linked Data and unAPI, but I found that context necessary to explain why - in an age when it is so very easy to share video and photos with friends - it is still so very difficult to share references to scholarly research.

This paper is divided into three parts. Part one gives a history of the index card and its role in information organization by both libraries and scholars. The second part of the paper considers whether the citation management software Zotero can be considered a "Scholar's Box" for the digital age. It is through the examination of the shortcomings of the current platforms that host and manage bibliographic records that we see where our scholarly and library platforms need development and investment. In the third section of the paper, the rise of the card as a convergent user interface design pattern in smartphone interfaces and web-based applications is outlined.

But before we can consider how the card can bring libraries and scholarship into the future, we need to understand how the card was a foundational element in their shared past.

Part One: The Paper Machine

Before I had read Markus Krajewski's Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929 (2011), I was under the misunderstanding that it was Melvil Dewey who, in addition to his myriad of accomplishments, had invented the index card. On reading Paper Machines, I realized my error. Dewey, through his for-profit side business The Library Bureau, had been largely responsible for the standardization of the index card to its still-familiar dimensions of 3 by 5 inches, "or rather 75 millimeters by 125 millimeters. (He was a tireless advocate of the metric system)" (Tenner, 2005). But Krajewski (2011) makes the case that the origin of the index card is as far back as 1548, when Konrad Gessner first published a description of how to process large amounts of data using paper. This process involved cutting up a sheet of handwritten notes or printed work into slips of paper with one fact or topic per slip, and arranging as desired.

Markus Krajewski is an Associate Professor of Media History at the Bauhaus University in Weimar and his works draw extensively on European historical sources. In Paper Machines, he describes how, in Vienna around 1780, the contents of the Imperial Court Library were described on slips of paper that were then fixed into a book. As such, Krajewski claims we should consider this as the first library catalogue in history (2011, p. 34).

Many histories situate the invention of the card catalogue just slightly later in time: in 1789, in revolutionary France (Nix, 2011). The French revolutionary government had just decreed that it could confiscate all religious property, including library holdings. In order to better understand what it now owned, the French revolutionaries in Paris made preparations to inventory all of these newly acquired books (Hopkins, 1992, p. …

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