Archaeology Odyssey 2:2, May/June 1999

Origins: You Can Look It Up!

Somebody had to invent the card catalogue. Why not a scholar at Alexandria’s ancient library?

By J. Harold Ellens

Archaeology Odyssey

When I ask my ten-year-old grandson to bike over to the college library down the street and fetch me a book, I am always surprised how quickly he returns. He just punches a few buttons on the library computer, selects an author or title, and right there in front of him, displayed on the monitor, is the location of the book in the library. Half a million books and he gets the right one in seconds, at ten years of age.

Fifty-seven years ago, when I was ten, there was no such thing as a computer. But even then I could go to the town library for my father and, in half an hour or so, find the right book. Inside the front door of our Greco-Roman-looking library was a neat cabinet with lots of little drawers—the card catalogue. All the authors and titles of the library’s books were arranged in alphabetical order, telling how the books were organized on the shelves. There were the sections for literature, history, arts, social sciences, natural sciences and religion. It worked like the computer does for my grandson, though it took me a little longer and I did not have nearly so nice a skinny-tired “racer” to ride home.

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