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One of the activities I like to do for fun is wander around the library shelves and stacks. It is a relaxing and entertaining way to spend forty-five minutes or an hour, and it is new and different every time.

One of the floors of the library at the college I attended had older books from the collection that were still organized using the Dewey Decimal System. I particularly enjoyed roaming around there—books from the early 1900s were written in a very different style from today’s tomes. I also enjoyed seeing how they were designed and printed, and what the illustrations (if any) were like. I’ve always found interesting how you can see the indentations that typewriters or printing presses made on the page. Some presses dug deep into the paper, others less so.  It adds another dimension to the physical differences amongst the books.

Sometimes these books still have the old library cards in the back, with names recorded in elegant script, from back when people wrote their names on the card when they checked out a book, rather than just having the date stamped. Some people wrote their names with less care than others (times haven’t changed that much) but the names were still almost always legible. I am glad that academic libraries still stamp books with the return date. It’s fun to see when the book has been used, and how long it’s been since someone last was due to return it. I am sorry that the public library no longer does this, although it does speed up the check-out process to simply print a receipt.

I miss card catalogs as well. I’m not so young that I’ve never used one—my elementary school had a small card catalog for its library, and I found many an interesting book browsing through the cards. Now my browsing is mostly confined to wandering the shelves. Aimlessly navigating through the online card catalog is not quite the same experience. I did use an online catalog within in the past few years which linked to scans of the card catalog cards for the search results. That was a creative combination of technologies, to be sure.

~Agatha Viola

Enjoyer of old and dusty books