The following essay by Richard J. Schulz, Associate University Librarian for Technical Services, was prepared in conjunction with the announcement that Firestone Library’s card catalog will be disassembled this summer. As the University Archives maintains the historical records of the University Library, we offer this for our patrons’ edification with thanks to the author for his permission in posting it.
The Card Catalog served as Princeton University Library’s primary database of acquired holdings until it was closed in 1981 when a major change in cataloging rules (AACR2) was adopted by the Library of Congress and all major research libraries in North America, Great Britain and many other libraries world-wide. As of 1981, no new cataloging was added to the Card Catalog. Updating of penciled-in bound volume holding notations to the records for existing serial and book-set titles continued to be made until 1989, when a project to retrospectively convert all active card serial and set titles was consummated. After 1989, therefore, the Card Catalog became a static partial representation of titles which the Library had acquired prior to 1981; in the terminology of the period, its status had changed from being “closed” to being “dead.”
In 1969, a microfilm copy was made of the pre-AACR2 Card Catalog as a backup for security reasons. This film copy is stored at the Library’s remote book shelving facility (ReCAP). A large number of the older hand-written card files in the Card Catalog had, at some earlier time, been re-typed, likely as a preservation measure. Documentation describing when this decision was made, and the extent to which it was applied, has been lost.