Obsolete: The card catalogue

Photo: Peter McIntosh
Photo: Peter McIntosh
Obsolete item: The card index.

Born: The Swedish botanist and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus used cards to catalogue biological species in the mid-1760s.

Death: Dunedin City Library stopped creating cards in 1993 and began digitising more than 140 years of index card records in 2016.

Use: Data storage and retrieval.

Description: When you search for something on your computer, or on a massive search engine such as Google, every word of every document is read and scanned at lightning speed for the desired string of letters. This allows data to be added anywhere, just as you might handwrite some new listings for people and their phone numbers in the last page of your telephone directory.

Before speed-reading of this calibre became possible, the only way to store data with any hope of finding it later was to list it alphabetically. So if you know what letter someone’s name starts with, you can find it among others in the book.

Index cards are simply a ‘‘book’’ without bound pages.

A work colleague once dropped a whole drawer of index cards and it took him most of a day to put them all back in order. Spare a thought next time Google takes an annoying number of seconds to find what you want.

Comeback?: Not on the cards.


— Peter Dowden



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