I went to Shields Library recently to use the card catalog, only to find it in the process of being dismantled and discarded.
The reason I was going to use the card catalog illustrates why I am dismayed at its fate. My research requires frequent use of materials that are old, obscure and in other languages. Experience has taught me that many of these are most efficiently searched in the card catalog. At least four times a year I hit a blank wall online, only to find the item I want on one of those hand-typed cards. My failure to find it online is not due to my own ineptitude, but to the deficiencies of the online catalog.
I have on several occasions asked librarians to search an item online for me, only to have them fail also and inform me that we do not have the item in question -- when I have already found it on our shelves. I have taught graduate students for years not to take an online search failure at face value but to search the card catalog, too.
I knew this baleful day would come sooner or later. Serious scholarship on this campus cannot help but suffer. I hope the space freed up by this action is used for something more helpful than more terminals where people can do their e-mail.
-- Arthur Shapiro, professor, evolution and ecology
(Editor's note: To find out more about the move to the all-online card catalog system, Dateline asked the library to respond to Professor Shapiro's letter. That response follows:)
The General Library stopped filing cards in the Main Card Catalog in Shields Library in 1992. Technology made it possible to retrospectively convert library holdings records and to process all new acquisitions electronically to present them in the MELVYL database. Use of the MELVYL catalog for access to the most recent research in UC collections since that time has been perceived as a value-added feature to library services.
MELVYL offers methods and easy-to-use sophisticated search techniques. The campus community has also reacted positively to the debut in 2002 of the HARVEST online public access catalog, which represents uniquely UC Davis holdings and also provides sophisticated search features.
Moving to an online environment for accessing library holdings also saved a significant amount of staff time and money. Funds were freed up that could then be used to acquire additional library materials. It is also worth noting that the UC Davis General Library is the last library in the UC system to remove its card catalog from public space.
Space freed up by the removal of the card cabinets will provide study space as enrollment grows. The removal of the card catalog has been endorsed by the Academic Senate Library Committee, most recently at the spring 2004 meeting. -- George Bynon, deputy university librarian